Last Updated on June 26, 2022
If your horse has been diagnosed with gastric ulcers, it can be a worrying time. But what is the best ulcer medicine for horses, and how else can you help your horse? Let’s find out!
What Are Ulcers In Horses?
Ulcers in horses are often referred to as stomach ulcers, but their correct name is Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS). EQUS is a widespread problem amongst domesticated horses, particularly performance horses such as racehorses.
Gastric ulcers are sore areas that form on the lining of the stomach. The stomach lining of a horse has two distinct areas. The lower half, where the digestive juices and food material sits, and the upper half.
The lower half of the stomach is not affected by the acidic digestive juices, but the upper section is much more sensitive. This means that if there is too much gastric acid production, or the stomach juices splash onto the upper section of the stomach lining, gastric ulcers may occur.
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Why Do Horses Get Ulcers?
Gastric ulcers are much more common in horses that have a high level of exercise on a regular basis. This is because exercise triggers the production of gastric acid, and also reduces the blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract. Exercise also causes the acidic digestive juices to splash onto the sensitive upper section of the stomach lining.
Added to this problem is the fact that sports horses eat a very different diet from their wild counterparts. The stomach of a horse is relatively small and the digestive system is adapted to eat continually for long periods of the day. A horse kept in the grass will graze for around 16 hours per day, and the stomach produces a constant trickle of gastric acid to help digest this.
Performance horses need much higher levels of energy to fulfill their daily exercise requirements and are commonly fed high-energy food in smaller amounts. A sports horse will be given some hay or haylage, but will not eat for the same length of time as a horse on grass. They will also be fed two or more meals that consist of grains, which also increases the risk of ulcers.
This type of management routine means that the stomach is empty for long periods. Feed neutralizes the acid in the stomach, so an empty stomach will be more acidic, also increasing the risk of ulcers.
Other factors that increase the likelihood of ulcers in horses include a stressful lifestyle, such as confinement to a stall for long periods, or frequent transportation. Long-term administration of some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can also reduce the protective mucus that lines the stomach, leading to a greater risk of ulcers.
What Is The Best Ulcer Medicine For Horses?
Currently, the only licensed ulcer medicine for horses is omeprazole. This is a paste that is given orally to the horse for a minimum of one month, before reassessing the severity of the gastric ulcers. Omeprazole is highly effective at treating ulcers in horses, although it can be prohibitively expensive.
Even when treated with omeprazole, ulcers are likely to recur unless changes to the management of the horse are made. Remember that gastric ulcers in horses are a man-made problem – horses in the wild do not suffer from gastric ulcers! This means that we need to make changes to return our horses to a lifestyle that is as natural as possible.
If a horse is subjected to a punishing training schedule, it is highly susceptible to stomach ulcers. To reduce this risk, the intensity, frequency, and duration of training should be reduced, and the horse should be turned out on pasture as much as possible.
Ideally, periods of fasting should be kept to a minimum, as a constant trickle of food can help to neutralize stomach acid. Alfalfa is an effective feed for horses with stomach ulcers and can make up as much as 50% of the daily food intake. A feed of alfalfa given 30 minutes before exercise greatly reduces the effects of stomach acid splashing onto the sensitive upper portion of the stomach lining.
To add energy to the diet of a sports horse with stomach ulcers, it can be very beneficial to give corn oil instead of grains and other concentrates.
So, as we have learned, the most common ulcer medicine for horses is a drug called omeprazole. This is a paste that is given orally to the horse for a minimum of one month. Even when treated with omeprazole, ulcers are likely to recur unless changes to the management and lifestyle of the horse are made.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the best ulcer medicine for horses! Do you have a horse that keeps getting gastric ulcers despite changes to its lifestyle and management? Or perhaps you’ve got some great tips for treating ulcers in horses? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Are The Symptoms Of Ulcers In Horses?
The symptoms of ulcers in horses are often very subtle, making this common condition of horses difficult to diagnose. The most common symptom is poor performance or a change in attitude, due to low grade stomach pain. In some cases, the horse may lose weight or have recurrent mild colic symptoms.
How Do You Treat Ulcers In Horses?
Treatment of ulcers in horses requires a complete overhaul of the lifestyle and management of the horse, as well as medical therapies. This is because ulcers in horses are a man-made problem, created by the way we look after and train domesticated horses.
How Do You Treat A Horse With Ulcers At Home?
A horse with ulcers needs a low-stress lifestyle and constant access to the correct types of food. Horses that are kept in stalls for long periods and fed small amounts of concentrate feeds are much more likely to suffer from ulcers.
Does Baking Soda Help Horses With Ulcers?
It is thought that baking soda might provide some short-term relief from the symptoms of ulcers in horses, but it will not help the ulcers to heal.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE