Does Your Horse Have Ulcers?

If your horse is showing signs of discomfort it may have stomach ulcers. Here are some signs to watch out for.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is painful and may affect your horse’s behaviour and performance. While stomach ulcers are often considered to be only a problem for racehorses, many horse owners do not realise that non-racing competitive horses are also at high risk.

Horses suffering from stomach

ulcers may display signs of pain and discomfort such as:

  • Still eating but losing condition or weight

  • Avoiding hard feed and preferring hay

  • Poor appetite

  • Unsettled in training or unwilling to work

  • Grinding teeth

  • Crib-biting

  • Bad coat

  • Colic

In early stages of the disease it is the pain and discomfort of stomach ulcers that influence a horse's eating behaviour, temperament and well-being. Some horses tolerate ulcers better than others and clinical signs may not be obvious. In these animals, a relative improvement in appetite or temperament may be evident within days of commencing treatment. Hemorrhaging ulcers are common in horses that have been in training for longer than eight weeks and perforation of the stomach can result if a horse remains untreated, usually with a fatal outcome.

If you think your horse is showing signs of pain and discomfort for no obvious reason, it may have a stomach ulcer. If a few days of treatment with an ulcer medication corrects this behaviour, you can feel confident that the cause was stomach ulcers. A three metre endoscope is used by veterinarians to obtain a positive diagnosis, but placing the horse on an ulcer medication for a few days is valuable when an endoscope is not readily available.

Here are a few handy tips to keep in mind when you are trying to treat or prevent ulcers in your horse:

  • Try not to exercise your horse on an empty stomach.

  • Feed regular small meals during the day if your horse does not have access to pasture.

  • Allow access to hay day and night for stabled horses.

  • Take regular meal breaks for your horse during transportation.

  • Provide hay nets when travelling long distances.

  • Always have plenty of fresh water available.

  • Keep a diary – your notes will help you keep track of any changes in your horse’s habits, food intake or behavior.

Don’t let untreated stomach ulcers affect your horse’s performance. We recommend you speak to your vet for more information.

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