Last Updated on December 26, 2022
Equine ulcers are lesions found in the mucus lining of a horse’s digestive tract. Due to the vast reasoning behind ulcer development, they can occur in any horse- so what is the best treatment for ulcers in horses?
There are multiple options including over the counter and prescription medications/supplements used in ulcer treatment and prevention. However, the first step in treatment is a proper diagnosis. The only method to truly verify and diagnose ulcers in a horse is by gastroscopy, an endoscopic examination. Veterinarians will utilize a camera on a thin flexible tube to examine the stomach lining.
Although gastric ulcers are the most common, horses are subject to both gastric and colonic ulcers. Gastric ulcers occur in the stomach, while colonic ulcers are found in the colon (hindgut). Although they share similarities, your horse may experience different symptoms and require a specific treatment based on the location. Although ulcers can appear in any horse of any age, veterinarians agree they are frequently a result of human interference.
Being confined to a stall is a leading cause of stomach ulcers in horses, especially when kept in for prolonged periods of time. Horses are natural foragers with continual stomach acid secretion. Eliminating grazing or only feeding twice a day results in less feed to neutralize acids.
High-performance diets that include large amounts of grain also produce specific fatty acids that may contribute to ulcer development. Unlike other animals, bacteria have not been shown to be a major contributing factor in equine ulcers. Environmental and physical stress, and some medications, can also decrease protective layers in the stomach, creating a susceptible host environment for ulcer formation. Gastric ulcers can often be accompanied by hindgut ulcers.
Horses may not always exhibit ulcer symptoms, especially if it is a mild case. Due to the “man-made” nature of ulcers, equine ulcers are frequently accompanied by other issues. This is why a distinct diagnosis via gastroscopy is vital.
The three most common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, and reoccurring mild colic. Stomach pains are an obvious reason a horse may lose his/her appetite, especially if the pain is reoccurring due to damaged stomach lining.
A loss of appetite is usually linked to weight loss if it goes unnoticed or untreated for a period of time. Although there are countless possibilities behind colic, ulcers may be an underlying reason behind sudden reoccurring colic episodes that are mild in nature with no clear cause. Other symptoms may include:
- Changes in attitude or performance
- Muscle loss
- Dull coat
- Cribbing or weaving behaviors
- Increased yawning and flehmen response
Treatment for Ulcers in Horses
Omeprazole is the only FDA approved medication for horse ulcer treatment. Because a greater percentage of show horses tend to develop ulcers, the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) approved the use of omeprazole for competition two decades ago. However, there are many over-the-counter products to help provide relief and prevention. Many owners will treat active ulcers with omeprazole, and use other gastric support supplements to taper off omeprazole. Depending on the severity of your horse’s ulcer case, these are some of the top ulcer products available without a prescription:
Ulcergard is without a doubt the most popular and effective over-the-counter treatment for horse ulcers. Available in a 3 or 6 pack on Amazon, Ulcergard is a favorite among horse owners because it is a non-prescription preventative containing omeprazole, which will suppress acid production and helps prevent future ulcer development. It’s available in an easy-to-administer flavored oral paste.
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Ulc-R-Aid is one of the most economical preventative supplements available. It acts as an antacid and contains natural supplemental calcium and magnesium. Its signature ingredient is “Colostrashield”, a natural alternative with almost forty natural immune factors and 8 growth factors.
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Formulated to support both the hindgut and foregut, DAC Cool Gut provides nutritional and colon support. The formula contains calcium carbonate and antacid DHA to help maintain the correct gut pH balance. Some use this supplement year-round for ulcer-prone horses, while others use during active hauling seasons and as-needed. This is yet another home run for the reliable and quality DAC product lineup.
Corta-Flx U-Gard pellets are available in a 4lb and 10lb tub and easily administered with feed. It contains all-natural ingredients like calcium and magnesium to support gastrointestinal health and maintain proper pH balance in the stomach. With apple flavoring and dehydrated Alfalfa, most horses look forward to this pelleted addition! Many horse owners keep their high-stress or ulcer-prone horses on U-Gard as a preventative measure.
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This is a great preventative option for picky eaters. MagnaGard is natural clay containing essential trace minerals, Omega 3s, and antioxidants. Many owners like this product specifically to mix in with apple sauce, molasses, or even papaya enzymes for an extra preventative measure.
The Best Treatment for Ulcers in Horses: Prevention
There is no question, the best treatment method for ulcers, or any ailment, is prevention. Because ulcers are frequently “man-made” and the result of our actions as horse owners, preventative measures are typically feasible.
Forage access is the number one way to prevent ulcers. Full-time access to hay or grass keeps the stomach full, relieves stress, prevents boredom, and maintains a horse’s digestive system as nature intended.
Maintaining the pH balance of your horse’s stomach will not only help prevent ulcers but provide overall gastric health improvements. Many owners opt to add alfalfa into their horse’s current forage diet for stomach acid neutralization. You can find some alfalfa hay precautions here.
Some owners are aware their horses are high risk for ulcers or have a history of gastric ulcers. Many opt to use the supplements listed above as a daily preventative, or even a once-monthly administration of omeprazole.
Studies have shown a proven way of ulcer prevention includes omeprazole administration 24-72 hours prior to a known stressor (such a show, trailering, etc.). Many owners also include pre and probiotics, digestive enzymes, or papaya enzymes in their feeding routines. If you suspect your horse might be suffering from ulcers, contact your vet. And don’t forget to share with your equestrian friends!
How long do equine ulcers take to heal?
It depends on the severity of the lesion and the treatment the horse is given. In general, the healing process can take approximately from 14 days to one month. More widespread and shallow squamous lesions normally heal in 14 to 21 days while deeper lesions takes around 28 day to heal. The most efficient treatment is with omeprazole formulated specifically for horses. It needs to be given at certain dose and certain amount of time, depending on severity of your horse's ulcers.
What oil is good for horses with ulcers?
The best oil for treating ulcers in horses is corn oil. The corn oil contains fatty acids that help to increase pH in the horse's stomach and digestive system and make it less acidic. The digestive system environment is normally acidic as the acid helps break down food. However, too much acidity can damage the intestinal lining and contribute to ulceration. By raising the pH level of the digestive tract, the fatty acids in the corn oil help protect against the formation of ulcers. A recent study showed that feeding horses 2 tablespoons of corn oil with each meal for 30 days prevented ulcers caused by overfeeding or rapid weight gain in 90% of cases.
Can horses recover from ulcers without medication?
It's true horses can recover from ulcers without any medications but that happens very seldom. Actually, only 4 to 10 percent of equine ulcers heal without treatment and the recovery period is much longer than when using medications. Also, some horses will always be predisposed to ulcers because of a genetic predisposition. This means they are likely to develop ulcers even if they are not overfed or under stress. You should know about the signs of ulcers so you can recognize them early and start treatment immediately.
What can you not feed a horse with ulcers?
You should avoid feeding your horse cereal based concentrates and give him food rich in digestible fibre instead. Cereal based concentrates are high in energy and protein as well as minerals and vitamins the horse needs. But unfortunately they also increase the risk of ulcers and make the condition worse if ulcers are already present.
One of the recommended feeds for horses with ulcers is alfalfa. Alfalfa is an excellent source of slow release carbohydrates which is easily digested and metabolized by the horse. Alfalfa also contains other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. You can add some oil to the alfalfa feed to increase its energetic value if your horse is loosing weight due to ulceration.
What causes equine ulcers?
The most common cause of ulcers in horses is overfeeding. If a horse eats more than he needs, then his digestive system will be overloaded and he is at risk of developing an ulcer. He may also develop ulcers if he is underfed, deprived of roughage or if he eats poor quality feeds.
There are many signs that can indicate if your horse has ulcers. Some of these signs include: a dry mouth and lips, bad breath, a red tongue, blood in the horse's manure, diarrhea or increased thirst. These are the most common signs of ulcers but you should not rely on these signs alone. It's important to get a professional opinion from a vet as soon as possible.
Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.