Vet Home PageEquine
Hospital HomeEquine Hospital
to Find the HospitalUseful
Web AddressesPublicationsFactsheetsEquine MattersSite
mapTel: 01555 660000
Ulcers – How Susceptible is Your Horse?
It’s been well documented that gastric ulceration is a condition known to affect many racehorses. However, it’s perhaps less well known that around 60% of performance horses and approximately 40% of leisure riding horses are also affected by this underrated condition.
Developments in diagnosis
The non-specific nature of the symptoms of equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) means that it is possibly very much an under-recognised problem. However, progress in the development of diagnostic equipment has helped veterinary surgeons identify and confirm the presence of ulcers in horses. A long endoscope (gastroscope), two to three metre long passed down into the horse’s stomach, is the only definitive test to verify the presence of gastric ulcers.
One of the challenges of this condition is the variability and vagueness of the symptoms, which can include some or all of the following; reduced appetite, slow eating, poor physical condition, dullness, changes in attitude such as sourness or irritability, colic, poor performance and reluctance to work. However, at times it is difficult to attribute these signs specifically to gastric ulceration. To add to the complication, the correlation between clinical signs and the severity of ulceration is not always consistent. On examination, some horses that have shown relatively few clinical signs are found to have severe ulceration, whereas others have been found to be the reverse.
How And Why are Ulcers thought to form
Horses were designed as ‘trickle feeders’ with free access
to light grazing. In contrast, depending on the level of work and yard
regime, our modern horse in training is usually stabled, often with restricted
access to food. An important feature of equine gastric ulcers is that
horses secrete gastric acid continuously, whether or not they are eating.
An adult horse will produce approximately 1.5 litres of gastric acid per
hour, and with restricted access to food, continued secretion means the
pH level can rapidly become very acidic, and ulcers can begin to develop.
In contrast, horses constantly eating hay or grass have a higher average
stomach pH providing a much healthier environment.
Exercise And Travel
Research has also shown that training has an effect on stomach acid levels.
Horses fed the same diet prior to and during training had higher acid
levels during the training period. More recent studies have also discovered
what is known as the ‘mechanical’ effect. During galloping,
pressure from the abdomen causes the stomach to contract, pushing acid
from the lower stomach up in to the more vulnerable upper stomach, thus
further increasing acid exposure in these animals.
Diagnosis And Treatment
If a horse is suspected of having gastric ulcers, gastroscopy will confirm the presence, severity and location of the ulceration. Although the most common location for ulcers is the upper region of the stomach, ulcers have been known to develop in other areas, including the lower portion and the duodenum. Ulcers are graded from 0 to 4 reflecting the severity of ulceration, with grade 0 being a normal healthy stomach, and grade 4 demonstrating extensive lesions with areas of apparent deep ulceration. Clyde Vet Group Equine Hospital as of 15/08/07 have a 3 metre video gastroscope to examine the horses stomach.
Studies have shown the most effective treatment is the acid inhibitor,
omeprazole. This is sold under the name GastroGard®, this is
the only licensed treatment for equine ulcers in the UK. An oral paste,
it is a potent inhibitor of gastric acid secretion and is highly effective
in healing gastric ulcers. It takes three to five days for a steady state
of acid suppression to be reached and total healing time is usually between
two to four weeks, although severe cases can take a little longer.
Re-occurrence And Prevention
Because horses are trickle feeders, we try to emulate the horses’
natural environment as closely as is possible. Free access to hay, daily
turnout – even for short periods – can help significantly.
Access to grazing plays a significant role in the prevention of ulcers
in horses. We know that where horses have been turned out for rest for
a few weeks, the incidence of ulcers in these animals will be minimal.
However once brought back into work, and particularly if stabled full
time, a significant proportion will develop ulcers within three to four
weeks of stabling and exercise.
In addition to management modifications, or where the regime already emulated a more natural environment, horses at high risk of recurrence may also require an ongoing preventive dose of GastroGard to keep them clear of ulceration.
If you have a horse that you suspect may have ulcers please phone the Hospital, 01555660000
(GastroGard® is a registered trademark of the AstraZeneca Group of Companies. Legal Category POM-V. GastroGard® contains Omeprazole.)
The material contained in this website is presented for information purposes only . The material is in no way intended to replace professional veterinary care or attention from a professional veterinary surgeon.
The advice given in any of our web pages cannot be used as the basis for a diagnosis or choice of treatment.
Clyde Vet Group advises that you should always consult a veterinary surgeon about any queries with animals under your care.
Site by: CSS Web Design
© Clyde Veterinary Group 2006-2011