01342 823011 - 24hr emergency service 7days a week 365 days a year

Equine Gastric Ulcers

The symptoms of equine gastric ulcers can be vague and may vary from one horse to another. This means that gastric ulcers could be one of the most under-recognised problems in the equine field with around 60% of performance horses and 40% of leisure horses affected.

gastri1Priors Farm played host to two talks in May 2007 covering this emerging disease. These talks were followed up by a gastroscopy day at Priors Farm in early June 2007. These were aimed at increasing your awareness of this important disease. For a copy of the presentation “Gastric Ulcers” given by Ellie Burfoot BSc (Hons) of Merial Animal Health at Malthouse Barn and Oldencraig Equestrian Centre please download here.

Horses are at risk of developing ulcers when they are fed intermittently (especially forage), have a diet high in carbohydrates, are under intensive training and are physically stressed such as when suffering an illness.

horses stomachAnatomy of the horses stomach
The horse has a simple stomach much the same as ourselves. The horses stomach differs from the human stomach in one important aspect. The stomach lining is split into two areas. The proximal (at the top) stomach lining is non-glandular with a white appearance whilst the distal (at the bottom) stomach lining is glandular with a pink appearance. These two areas are demarcated by the margo plicatus. The glandular portion of the stomach is the area in which the stomach secretes various substances that include acid to digest the food and lining protectors such as bicarbonate. Both areas of the stomach can become ulcerated.

Clinical Signs
The clinical signs of a horse suffering from gastric ulcers can be very vague and a highly variable with each individual. Signs include:

  • Anorexia or lack of appetite.
  • Colic.
  • Poor performance.
  • Poor hair coat quality.
  • Poor condition.
  • Sudden onset of vices such as crib-biting, weaving and box walking.

Foals also suffer from ulceration. They are particularly susceptible when suffering from another illness in the first days of life. Clinical signs in foals include poor appetite, colic and diarrhoea.

Diagnosis is very difficult using clinical signs alone as the signs mimic many other diseases. The only method of diagnosis is to visualise the stomach lining with a gastroscope. We need very long endoscopes (3 meters in length) to reach the stomach in the adult horse.

Priors Farm uses an external consultant, Dr Tim Brazil BVSc PhD DipECEIM Cert EM (IntMed) MRCVS. Tim is highly experienced and his expertise is renowned in this area.

Treatment strategies for ulcers are three pronged: prevent clinical signs, promote ulcer healing and prevent recurrence. Medical treatment of ulceration in the past was very difficult and in many cases was unsuccessful. Treatments have included antacids, Histamine antagonists and ulcer-coating agents. Non of these are licensed for use in horses and none are 100% effective. However, a treatment has now been developed that is safe and effective to use. Omeprazole (Gastroguard) actually prevents the glands in the stomach from producing too much acid by “blocking” the acid pump within the glands. The treatment is given orally and for a period of 28-days. Gastroguard will stop the clinical signs and promote the healing of the ulcers.

It is essential that not only an effective medical treatment is given but that there are management changes implemented to prevent recurrence of the ulcers. These changes include increased turn-out, reduction in the percentage of carbohydrates in the diet, increased access to forage. A reduction in the intensity of training may also be of benefit.

DISCLAIMER: This advice is intended for use by registered clients of Priors Farm only. The advice offered is general advice only. Priors Farm clients who wish to discuss the individual circumstances of their horse should contact the office. To speak to a vet please phone between 8.30 – 10.00 am on weekday mornings.