- 14th April 2021 by Rowen Barbary
Equine Gastric Health
Gastric ulcers are a common and sometimes persistent issues in horses, estimated to affect up to 93% of performance horses. Low forage, high concentrate diets, the stress of training, competing and travelling can all influence the gastrointestinal health of horses.
Symptoms of gastric ulcers vary greatly from horse to horse, and it is important to remember the majority of horses suffering from gastric ulcers do not show any outward symptoms at all. The signs to look out for include poor appetite, weight loss, decreased performance, dull coat, behaviour changes such as grumpiness when girthing or teeth grinding and mild or recurrent colic. Studies have also shown that gastric ulcers can also be a trigger factor to vices such as crib-biting and windsucking.
Performance horse may start to show exercise intolerance, for example a reluctance to gallop or move forwards it often seen, some will have a poor tolerance to lateral work and may also start to pick up more jumping faults. A recent study has also found that a shorter stride length is often the likely consequence of gastric ulcers.
If you are at all worried that your horse may suffer from ulcers, it is important to get your horse examined by your vet who will be able to give you a definitive diagnosis by using an endoscope to observe and evaluate your horses stomach lining. Ulcers can vary in size and severity, and are mostly found in the squamous or non-glandular area of the stomach, graded 0-4.
If your horse is found to have ulcers, your vet will often prescribe medication that is usually administered daily for a number of weeks. As an owner this is also a good time to review your management practices, as prevention is key in helping avoid ulcer re-occurring.
Where possible it is important to allow long periods of grazing, with ad-lib fibre provided in the form of hay or haylage when stabled. Some horses prefer a routine which will help minimise stress and there is also some evidence to support the use of a stable mirrors.
High cereal diets should be replaced with diets high in fibre, with energy sourced from oils, fed little and often with the horse having access to a continuous supply of clean, fresh, water. Feeding a handful or two of a chopped fibre before exercise is also a good idea, to help protect the stomach lining from gastric splashing.
Look for products containing high levels of super-fibres, such as Soya Hulls and Sugar Beet. These types of fibre are highly digestible supporting gut health.
Additives such as Calcareous Marine Algae will help to support optimal pH in the stomach and hindgut, acting as a buffering agent. Yea-Sacc 1026 is also particularly useful for maintenance of a healthy digestive system, and is often included in many feeds to support digestion.
Some oral supplements might be also beneficial when administered long term. Supplements containing Pectin, Lecithin, Actisaf and Aloe Vera have been shown to help support squamous lesion improvement, increasing the digestibility of fibre and helping to maintain normal pH.
Top Tips for Managing Gastric Ulcers in Performance Horses
- Provide ab-lib forage
- Increase grazing time
- Feed small, but frequent meals
- Ensure clean, fresh water is available at all times
- Reduce the amount of concentrates
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