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Tips for Caring for Horses with Ulcers

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Equestrians can often spot the well-known symptoms of a health problem with their horse — weight loss, attitude changes, reluctance to train, a dull coat and the general sense that something doesn't seem right. Gastric ulcers more commonly affect performance horses, exceeding 60% of non-racing performance disciplines, but other neonatal and adult horses can face the acidic wrath, too.

Ulcers in horses affect their nutrition, training and overall health. If you suspect your horse has gastric ulcers, contact your vet and begin treatment as soon as possible to prevent the condition from worsening.

How to Care for Horse Ulcers

The upper portion of a horse's stomach, which lacks specific protective properties, is sensitive to acid. If acid from the lower stomach reaches this vulnerable upper section, ulcers can form and make your horse feel very uncomfortable.

Luckily, there are ways you can neutralize your horse's discomfort. Some tips for caring for horses with ulcers include the following.

1. Increase Their Access to Forage

A horse's stomach is notably acidic, producing acid 24 hours a day. When a horse's stomach is empty, almost the only content left is acid that will keep increasing until something neutralizes it. A horse in their natural habitat will graze for 16 to 20 hours a day to combat this acid growth, so your horse must have constant access to forage.

Your horse's chewing movements also produce saliva that aids in buffering stomach acid. As acid continually builds up, forage and saliva combine to maintain healthy stomach acid levels and ease ulcer symptoms.

Ensure your horse consumes a minimum of 1.5% of their body weight in forage. Pasture grass works well. Avoid coarse forage like straw, as it can irritate the stomach and make your horse more uncomfortable. Instead, opt for alfalfa hay that acts as a natural dietary antacid.

2. Feed Them a High-Fiber Meal

Horses evolved to eat several small meals throughout the day. To maintain your horse's physical condition and remedy discomfort, you may need to offer them supplemental grain in addition to their daily forage.

Additionally, you might consider adjusting what you feed a horse with ulcers during treatment. Consider providing small servings of low-starch, high-fat vegetable oil grain. Small portions protect their stomach lining of their stomach from acid splash. Veterinarians also recommend accompanying meals with alfalfa as an extra source of antacid forage.

3. Give Them the Proper Supplements

Many companies create and sell gastric ulcer supplements claiming to be the best, but little scientific evidence supports those claims. The only FDA-approved product available for horse ulcer treatment is omeprazole. Some other supplements are useful, but only for a short time and have no real long-term effect.

Omeprazole is an oral medication that is highly effective in inhibiting horses' stomach acid. You can use omeprazole both as a preventive and as an ulcer treatment for horses.

You can find omeprazole at many equine stores under different brand names. The dose for an average-sized horse is 4mg/kg, given once a day for four weeks. Or, if you know your horse is going to be entering a stressful situation, you can give them a single dose as a preventive measure.

4. Manage Your Horse's Stress Levels

Stress can increase your horse's chance of developing stomach ulcers, especially horses with a busy routine. Busy horses often spend more time with their owners and less time in the field with access to forage.

Some events that may make your horse feel more stressed include:

  • Event training

  • Recreational showing

  • Trailering

  • Strenuous exercise

  • Confinement

Event training and recreational showing are uniquely stressful for horses. Training your horse is necessary and offers many benefits, but strenuous exercise can decrease the emptying functionality and blood flow of your horse's stomach, increasing their chance of developing ulcers. Trailering and showing in a new environment can also make your horse stressed.

Some studies show event training and recreational showing can induce ulcers within five to seven days. If you're planning to put your horse into any of these stressful situations, you may want to play it safe and give them a single dose of omeprazole and ensure constant access to forage when appropriate.

5. Make Sure They Have Constant Water Access

Your horse should always have access to water. Water is vital for horses' respiratory tract and digestive system, allowing their bodies to:

  • Use and digest nutrients.

  • Regulate body temperature.

  • Eliminate waste.

Without access to water, horses are more prone to developing gastric ulcers and colic, among other risks. To stay hydrated, horses should drink around five to 10 gallons of water a day, depending on their size, environment and activity level.

Ensure your horse has constant access to fresh, clean water, both in their turnout pasture and stall. If you plan on trailering for a long period, stop every three to four hours and offer your horse water to keep them hydrated. And, when showing, bring a bucket or two to fill with clean water.

6. Allow More Turnout Time

Finally, allow your horse to spend well-deserved relaxation time in their turnout pasture. Your horse will appreciate the recovery periods of leisurely foraging on grass and alfalfa — which you can supply in their pasture for more grazing options — and constant access to water. Their stomach will appreciate it, too.

Should You Ride a Horse with Ulcers?

Yes, you can ride a horse who has ulcers, as long as you're maintaining a proper treatment plan. You should time your rides carefully, though, to not upset their stomachs. A few hours after their last grain meal, allow your horse access to full-flake alfalfa or alfalfa pellets while grooming to prevent any acid splash during your ride.

Caring for a Horse with Ulcers?

Our equestrian family at Horse Tack Co. understands that you want the best for your horse. We want the best for them, too. Gastric ulcers are, unfortunately, a frequent struggle horse owners face across all disciplines.

If your horse is battling the acidic discomfort that comes with ulcers, visit our website and browse our horse supplements to keep them feeling good. Our Gastro Gold III equine ulcer oral paste contains a veterinary formula of omeprazole, L-glutamine and sodium acid carbonate to effectively neutralize acid and reduce acid exposure.

And, if you're looking for ways you can cheer up your horse, we have the right products to keep them feeling relaxed and loved. Browse our online selection of high-quality equestrian essentials, or visit our New Holland, Penn., location to browse in person.

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