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Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

When a horse experiences the effects of the very low pH normally found in the glandular region of the stomach, it can lead to conditions such as gastric ulcers. Today, our Hohenwald vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment of gastric ulcers in horses.

Gastric Ulcers Syndrome

When ulcers are discovered on the stomach lining it is referred to as gastric or stomach ulcers. Horses can commonly experience ulcers and most will suffer from this condition at some point in their lives with a greater risk for athletic horses due to increased gastric acid production and decreased blood flow to the GI tract caused by excessive exercise.

Horses have smaller stomachs compared to other animals and because of this, they will opt to eat less but more frequently throughout the day. For horses that naturally graze this also means that their body will produce a steady supply of gastric acid to help with digestion although the feed and saliva will dilute this acid. In situations where the horse is fed twice a day such as during boarding, this acid can instead be over-produced and affect other parts of the digestive system leading to gastric ulcers.

Causes of Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses

Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in horses is generally caused by an imbalance between mucosal aggressive and protective factors. Prolonged exposure to hydrochloric acid, pepsin, bile, or organic acids may lead to ulcers in the esophagus. When a horse experiences ulcers in this area it can be compared to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Syndrome (GERDS) in humans. 

The length of time that the horse experiences acid exposure will determine the severity of this condition. Ulcers that occur in the glandular mucosa of horses are typically caused by a disruption of blood flow and decreased mucus and bicarbonate secretion.

If a horse has been fasting or gone through long periods without eating it will be more likely to experience gastric ulcer syndrome along with foals that nurse or feed infrequently.

Signs of Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses

The majority of horses with gastric ulcers do not show outward clinical signs and can appear completely healthy. Some of the signs may include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Dullness
  • Attitude changes
  • Decreased performance
  • Reluctance to train
  • Poor body condition
  • Poor hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Low-grade colic
  • Girthiness

Clinical signs of ulcers in foals include intermittent colic (after suckling or eating), frequent recumbency, reduced nursing, diarrhea, poor appetite, a pot-bellied appearance, grinding of teeth, and excess salivation. Once these symptoms appear in foals the condition is already advanced and should be diagnosed and treated immediately.

How Can Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses be Treated?

If you have noticed any of the symptoms above in your horse or foal then you will want to have your horse examined by our Hohenwald vets. Once your horse has been diagnosed with gastric ulcer syndrome then our vets will be able to recommend the ideal treatment.

There are a variety of methods that have been used for the treatment and prevention of gastric ulcers in horses and foals. When it comes to medication, there is a paste that needs to be administered once daily for 28 days to treat gastric ulcer syndrome in horses. One of the added benefits of this medication is that it can be used for the prevention of the recurrence of gastric ulcers when administered at a half dose.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your horse or foal showing uncomfortable signs of gastric ulcer syndrome? Contact our Hohenwald vets to have your animal cared for.

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