November is Gastric Ulcer Awareness Month here at Wendover Heights Equine, kindly sponsored by Merial (manufacturers of ‘Gastrogard’).
THE OFFER – If your horse is gastroscoped and diagnosed with ulcers here at Wendover Heights Equine, Merial will cover the cost of 1 week of Gastrogard as part of the 4 week treatment course!
Ulcers are a bit of a ‘buzz-word’ amongst horse owners at the moment. What we do know, however, is that they are far more common than we previously thought. Whether you own a happy hacker or a thoroughbred racehorse, it is important to know the facts about gastric ulcers!
So What Are Gastric Ulcers and Why Do They Form?
Horses are designed to be trickle feeders with constant access to forage. In our modern management systems this natural state is somewhat altered, with many horses spending long periods of time stabled and fed large amounts of concentrates.
Horses are continuously producing gastric acid (up to 1.5 litres/hour) which can cause the stomach contents to become quite acidic. Usually this is neutralised by saliva whilst they graze.
The stomach is divided into a glandular and a non glandular (squamous) portion. Gastric acid sits within the glandular portion. When the horse is exercised, this gastric acid splashes onto the unprotected non glandular portion which ultimately leads to ulcers! However, you can also get glandular ulcers too.
Are there any risk factors?
PLENTY!! These include high concentrate/low forage diets, periods of starvation, long stabling periods, intense/increased exercise, transportation, management changes or increased stress levels. Foals are also at a higher risk.
- reduced appetite
- poor condition
- poor performance
- low grade or recurrent colic
- reluctance to work
- irritability/attitude changes/ girthy
This list is by no means exhaustive as different horses may show a number of different signs.
Gastroscopy! This involves passing a long (3 metres!) but narrow fibre-optic camera up the nose, down the oesophagus and into the stomach. We can then look for ulcers which we grade from 0-4. Surprisingly, horses tolerate this very well and usually only require mild sedation.
The only other thing to bear in mind is that your horse will need to be starved prior to gastroscopy, usually for 15-18 hours. Without this period of starvation all we would be able to see is what they ate for last night’s dinner…
Omeprazole, an acid inhibitor, has been shown to be the most effective treatment for gastric ulcers. Omeprazole for horses comes as a paste which is given straight into the mouth. Following diagnosis, usually a 28 day course is given, followed by a review with your Vet.
Management and Prevention
- Free access to good quality forage and increased pasture turnout will help significantly.
- Concentrate feed should be fed in smaller quantities in increased number of feeds.
- Oil supplementation – a good alternative calorie source as opposed to concentrates.
- Minimising periods with no food available (e.g. travelling with a haynet).
- Ensuring a constant supply of fresh, clean water.
For more information, or to book your horse in for Gastric Ulcer Awareness Month, please contact Wendover Heights Equine on 01296 621 840.