What are Ulcers?: Gastric ulcers occur in the stomach when the stomach lining erodes due to exposure to concentrated stomach acid over time. Stomach acid will naturally eat away the lining, but normally the blood flow to the stomach wall helps the body create new stomach lining. Ulcers form when the stomach acid eats away the lining faster than the body can regenerate stomach lining.
What Causes Ulcers?: Several factors are blamed for causing ulcers. In broodmares, the growing foal crows the organs causing the stomach acid to rise & sit higher in the stomach, over time this will cause an ulcer. When you give non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Bute or Banamine for an extended amount of time, ulcers can form. That's because these drugs cause the blood vessels to contract. Which means less blood flow to the stomach wall. The most common cause of ulcers is stress, and I'm not talking about stress that we have in our everyday lives like paying bills. Your horse is constantly under physiologic stress - meaning it's anything that gives your horse a fight or flight response. That kind of stress probably doesn't happen everyday in people. Think of when you get pulled over for speeding, your stomach falls, your heart rate goes up, & you feel hot, tingly, and flushed. That is your fight or flight response kicking in. Now you might not think your horse experiences this type of stress but here are some common things that can cause true physiologic stress:
- Stable Confinement
- Losing a pasture buddy
- Changes in barn mates
- Intense Training
- Unpredictable Feeding Times
- Visits from the vet or farrier
Here are some symptoms associated with ulcers:
- Grinding Teeth
- Behavioral Issues
- Runny Feces
- Finicky Appetite
- Poor Body Condition
- Recurrent Colic
- Dull Hair Coat
- Cribbing - Cribbing can be a way the your horse is trying to self medicate. However, managing the ulcer probably won't fix the cribbing.
- Feed smaller, more frequent meals - this helps keep the stomach acid low
- Add some beet pulp & alfalfa to the diet - the added protein & pectin have been shown to buffer stomach acid
- House your horse with a buddy
- When trailering your horse, consider using products like U-7 Gastric Aid - it helps coat the stomach lining preventing erosion
When managing ulcers, it can be stressful, but just be thankful it's not the kind of stress that cause ulcers. If you have any other questions about ulcers, I recommend consulting with your veterinarian.