Stomach ulcers are something which are often forgotten about amoungst horse owners. They can be caused through stress, new grass or being starved for longer periods of time i.e. running out of hay when standing in.
Ultimately, stomach ulcers are common because horses don’t have gal bladders like humans. When humans chew it triggers the gal bladder to release the stomach acids into the stomach for digestion. Stomach acids in an empty stomach can damage and ulcerate the stomach lining, hense why humans often get stomach ulcers by regularly chewing gum or stress. Anyway, horses don’t have this and stomach acids are constantly drip, drip, dripped into the stomach. Horses naturally graze – eat little amounts aaaaaaaalll day long (16 hours of the day in fact) so when the stomach is empty for too long stomach acids build up and cause damage.
By domesticating horses we have:
- Reduced the time they spend eating.
- Regularly exercise them – splashing contents around the lining and reduce blood flow to the wall
- Reduced the amount and variety of forage in the diet and restricted feed intake
And these can all cause and/or aggravate stomach ulcers.
The clinical signs are variable and often subtle and may well be shared with a number of other conditions. The symptoms may include one or more of the following symptoms:
- Poor performance (reluctance to move because it swashes acids around the stomach and aggravates the ulcers)
- Reduced appetite (ironic, I know but it’s pain related)
- Altered temperament – difficult to ride, bucking, refusing at jumps (usually when your leg is on, you could literally be kicking the ulcers so the horse starts going upwards not forwards)
- Weight loss
- Aggression or fear when you or horse clothing are around the stomach area (girth, belly straps, rollers ect)
- Teeth grinding
- Crib biting
- Back pain
- Peritonitis and death
There is a way to quickly home diagnose ulcers but the only way to know 100% if ulcers are present is by a vetenary scoping
A video for the Stomach ulcer touch test
Scoping isn’t a nice thing to watch/have your horse go through. Your horse is sedated and a probe with a camera on the end is inserted up their nostril. My mums horse, Norman, was recently diagnosed with stomach ulcers. Luckily, his were caught fairly early but they are visable on scoping images.
Like most conditions catching it early minalises the amount of work you have to put in after. My mum now gives medicine in the patients food and syringes of paste to give him half an hour before food to settle his acids. He’s now has three hay nets at night and half a scoop of HiFi 15 minutes before working (which he isn’t at all upset about). But after care is a lot more intense for severe cases.
Horses diagnosed with stomach ulcers will often been on a medicated food supplement for life.
I hope this helps!
Catch ya laters,