Gastric Ulcers in Horses: Signs, Symptoms, and Care for Gastric Ulcers

“Gastric health” is achieved when the stomach of the horse is free of disease and discomfort. Unfortunately, in performance horses the incidence of gastric discomfort is high – reaching up to 93% for many active athletes. Why? The horse’s stomach continuously secretes hydrochloric acid throughout the day and night, regardless of if feed has been ingested. High acid in the stomach, especially in an empty stomach, predisposes the horse to gastric ulcers.  

What Are Gastric Ulcers?  

Equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) is commonly diagnosed amongst competition horses. There are two common types of gastric ulcers in horses: squamous and glandular. The first third of the stomach is the squamous region, whereas the last two-thirds is glandular. 

Squamous Ulcers in Horses 

Squamous ulcerations generally occur as a direct result of ongoing exposure to stomach acid. These ulcers tend to form quickly, and they are often associated with high starch diets, lack of ample forage, intense exercise and stress.  

Glandular Ulcers in Horses 

Glandular ulcerations typically occur when the protective mucus layer that the glands produce is compromised. These ulcers develop slowly, and the exact causes are less well understood. Glandular ulcers are also more difficult to resolve than squamous ulcers. 

How do I Know my Horse has Ulcers? 

Gastric ulcers can be diagnosed and graded based on endoscopy (also known as “scoping”). Both types of ulcers are graded on a scale of 0 to 4, with 0 being healthy and 4 being extensive, deep ulcerations.  

Is my Horse at Risk for Ulcers? 

Unfortunately, many horses are at high-risk for developing ulcers. The common risk factors for gastric ulcers include: 

  • Lack of turnout/grazing 
  • Inadequate forage intake 
  • prolonged use of NSAID’s  
  • Travel 
  • High starch diets 
  • Elevated exercise 

Many of these risk factors go hand-in-hand with performance horses, creating the perfect storm for ulcers. In fact, a research study in 2011 showed the prevalence of squamous ulcers in horses during the competition season was 93%, but in the off-season the prevalence of ulcers in the same horses dropped to only 48%. 

Signs and Symptoms of Gastric Ulcers in Horses 

Although scoping is the only sure way to know if your horse has ulcers, there are several tell-tail signs of gastric ulcers including:   

  • Poor body condition 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Irritability or discomfort near the flanks 
  • Bad behavior, especially seen in girthiness/cinchiness  
  • Reduced performance 
  • Weight loss  
  • Dull coat condition  
  • Digestive upset  
  • Acute colic  
  • Diarrhea 

Any of these signs may indicate ulcers are present, which can be confirmed via endoscopy. You can also work to help prevent ulcers by trying to minimize factors that contribute to the problem.  

Tips to Prevent Ulcers in Horses: 

  • Provide ample turnout  
  • Provide plenty of forage 
  • Incorporate more frequent meals 
  • Provide very clean, fresh water  
  • Decrease stress, as much as possible 
  • Keep a consistent schedule 
  • Feed a preventative supplement to help protect the stomach 

Maintaining a good gut health program with products like Vitalize® is also paramount. In fact, while all Vitalize products benefit gastric and gut health, Vitalize® Alimend® is specifically formulated to combat gastric discomfort and restore gastric health in performance horses. 

Natural Care for Existing Gastric Discomfort 

If your horse is showing signs of gastric discomfort, we suggest starting him or her on the stress dose of Vitalize Alimend (2 pumps AM and 2 pumps PM). Alimend is a natural product that supports the gastric health of the horse, and in clinical trials when feeding the stress dose, it has been shown to resolve gastric discomfort in over 90% of horses. It contains MHB3® Hyaluronan and Lion’s Mane extract, which have both been proven in studies to have gastroprotective and soothing effects.  

Why Alimend?  

Alimend is unique from other gastric health products because it does not change the pH of the stomach, nor does it prevent acid secretion like many other products do. Because of this, digestion is not negatively impacted, which decreases the chance of colic. Instead of suppressing acid, Alimend’s formula has a mucoadhesive effect that lines the stomach and is designed to both repair and maintain the integrity of the GI tissue. This decreases the chance of colic while simultaneously keeping “a good gut feeling.” 

Additionally, Alimend utilizes a high-molecular-weight and highly concentrated 

hyaluronan for maximum results, as well as a research-proven prebiotic for added gut health, absorption and support of the immune system. It is palatable, easy to feed and contains only natural ingredients.