Gastric ulcers in horses - prevention is key!
As a practicing veterinarian, how often do you encounter
stomach problems in horses?
Dr Eiler: "Relatively often. I can't give you exact numbers. Stomach problems are a frequent occurrence in riding horses. And I am sure that it affects broodmares and young horses more often than one thinks – it is just less noticeable. Every now and then an owner may notice when, for example, a two-year-old is looking miserable and weak."
What are the symptoms of gastric ulcers?
Dr Eiler: "Owners will often complain that their horses look gaunt and lacking in muscle tone, even though they are being given various feed supplements. Problems will often arise with rideability. The horse is less responsive and therefore can’t perform well. The problem is also manifested in weak nerves: affected horses are described as nervous, distracted and skittery, being less able to concentrate and not fully ready to work. One example of this is that dressage horses have more difficulties with a regular and relaxed gait.
Sometimes an unexplained colic is also considered a symptom of gastric irritation or an ulcer. Colic is only a term for different types of abdominal pain. I believe that stomach pain is often the cause of colic. Cramp-relieving medication and painkillers are only temporary solutions. Unfortunately, there is far too little causal research in this area. In my experience, horses that have undergone surgery or are lame are also frequently affected.
This is due to inflammation inhibitors that are administered over a longer period of time, and begin to irritate the stomach. This is often ignored by owners and some colleagues, unfortunately. Every horse reacts individually, of course, but I believe that every dose that goes beyond one week is already too much for a horse’s sensitive stomach. Basically, anti-inflammatory drugs are being prescribed far too often."
What kinds horses are affected by gastric ulcers? Meaning, are they more sport horses, or leisure horses?
Dr Eiler: “There’s no definitive answer. It’s not just riding horses and race horses that suffer from gastric irritations, inflammations and ulcers. They are more often affected, however, because of the added stress from competitions and travel. I see a lot of stress from travel especially. Any trip that’s longer than two or three hours will have an effect on the immune system, meaning that the horse’s immune status worsens.
Horses often get dehydrated when being transported, because many horses drink less, or won’t drink at all, in the trailer. Their basic stress levels, however, will be quite individual. Many horses do not show obvious symptoms, so the owners often do not notice at all. In my opinion it is definitely an advantage to provide the horse with a stall at competitions. Even if it is unfamiliar, it helps to reduce stress and encourages eating and drinking. But this doesn’t mean that only competition horses are affected. Some leisure riders demand a lot from their horses, so that these horses can be affected as well, but it's less often recognized."
What therapy do you use to treat horses suffering from gastritis or stomach ulcers?
Dr Eiler: "I distinguish between milder and more severe cases. Unfortunately, most mild cases are not recognized at all. As a veterinarian, I rarely encounter it. The veterinarian isn’t called until at least moderate problems are noticed, or even after a stomach ulcer has already developed. Then I might recommend that one first administer an acid blocker, such as Gastrogard, and after this treatment to give the horse Equine 74 Gastric for a longer or sustained period. The sponge-like structure of the red algae from which Equine 74 Gastric is made ensures an adequate buffering of excess acid in the stomach. Many horse owners speak of their horses showing significantly more vitality and satisfaction. I'm one of those owners myself, by the way. I tried it on my own eventing horse before recommending it to my customers, and the change convinced me."
And what do you give the owners, so that their horses need not suffer from stomach problems in
Dr Eiler: "An extensive consultation in proper keeping and feeding! This is the root of many stomach problems. We veterinarians can treat horses and deal with their symptoms. But it would help the horse much more if a stomach ulcer didn’t develop in the first place. Prevention is key here. The main causes are not enough exercise – especially in winter, too much stress, and not enough roughage. Horses are continuous eaters.
Their organism is designed to steadily consume a relatively large amount of low-energy food. Most stables, however, have feeding breaks which are much too long, and feed horses too-large quantities of concentrated feeds that are difficult to digest. Both of these practices can cause stomach issues. My recommendation, therefore, is this: horses should be allowed to eat as much roughage as they want.
In addition they can be given oats, mineral feeds and a reasonable supplement. The important thing is that one needs to observe one’s horse carefully. Not every horse is equipped with the same basic temperament, and therefore may be more or less sensitive. In my experience, Equine 74 Gastric is a good choice for a preventive permanent supplement. It does a lot of horses good."