Gastric ulcers in horses – reducing the risk
Equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS) is a common problem associated with performance horses. In actively racing thoroughbreds, the prevalence is up to 100%.1 Gastric ulcers impact both performance and well-being, but there are steps you can take to help reduce the risk.
What are gastric ulcers in horses?
Gastric ulcers occur when there is damage to the lining of the stomach (the mucosa). There can be lots of different contributing factors in the development of gastric ulcers, and depending on the location of the ulcers they are usually further defined as:
Equine squamous gastric disease (ESGD):
• Lesions occur in the non-glandular (squamous) region
• Damage to the squamous stomach lining is caused by excessive exposure to acidic stomach contents
Equine glandular gastric disease (EGGD):
• Lesions occur in the glandular region
• Less is known about the cause
Your vet will diagnose gastric ulcers, including the type and grade, via gastroscopy (a small camera that goes down the throat, into the stomach).
Signs of gastric ulcers in horses:
• Poor performance
• Poor appetite
• Poor body condition and weight loss
• Poor coat condition
• Reaction to girth tightening
• Behavioural changes
• Teeth grinding
What are the risk factors for gastric ulcers in horses?
Many of the risk factors for EGUS are synonymous with a horse in training’s lifestyle. For ESGD, there are a range of factors which increase the risk of acid exposure:
o High starch (>2g/kg bodyweight per day)
o Fasting (>6 hours between forage feeding)
o Little or no access to grazing and restricted forage
o Severity of the condition is linked to the intensity and regularity of exercise
Because the definitive cause of EGGD is unknown the risk factors are less clearly defined, but include: 4
• Exercising more than 5 times per week (not linked to intensity)
• Warmblood breed
How can I reduce the risk of gastric ulcers in my horse?
There are several management changes you can make to help reduce the risk of gastric ulcers,although not all are practical for horses in training:
• Avoid high starch diets – concentrate feed should not exceed 2kg per meal1,3
• Concentrate meals should be fed at least 6 hours apart and shouldn’t be fed pre forage1,9
• The addition of vegetable oil may be beneficial.1 Kentucky Karron Oil, made from Linseed, has the ideal ratio of omega 3, 6 & 9 to support digestive and overall health
• Provide free access to a good quality forage – this helps to build up a fibre mat which protectsthe stomach lining.2If free access isn’t viable, then the time between forage meals shouldn’t exceed 6 hours
• Increasing grazing may be beneficial
• Feeding a small forage meal 30-60 minutes prior to exercise may help2
Omeprazole is usually used to treat gastric ulcers, and can also be used alongside the steps above to help prevent recurrence. Speak to your vet to find out more
Good overall digestive health will always be beneficial to horses that suffer with gastric ulcers. NutriGard Extra provides all-round digestive support, combining B Vitamins and prebiotics to aid digestion,digestible fibre to support gastric health and hydrolysed plant protein to maintain condition. It offers a proactive approach for maintaining digestive health in stabled horses, helping them stay in their best condition.
Get in touch with the Foran Equine Team for more information about using our products to support horses in training – we’ll be happy to help.
1. Sykes BW, Hewetson M, Hepburn RJ, Luthersson N, Tamzali Y. European College of Equine InternalMedicine Consensus Statement—Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Adult Horses. J Vet Intern Med2015;29:1288–1299
2. Sykes BW, Jokisalo JM. Rethinking equine gastric ulcer syndrome: Part 2 – Equine squamous gastric ulcer syndrome (ESGUS). Equine Vet Educ 2015;27:264-268
3. Luthersson N, Nielsen KH, Harris P, Parkin TDH. Risk factors associated with equine gastric ulceration syndrome (EGUS) in 201 horses in Denmark. Equine Vet J 2009;41:625–630
4.van den Boom R. Equine gastric ulcer syndrome in adult horses. Veterinary Journal (London, England :1997). 2022 May-Jun;283-284:105830. DOI: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2022.105830. PMID: 35472513.