Dr Siegfried Eiler is a practising veterinarian for horses in Heroldsbach, Bavaria with more than 30 years of professional experience. In this interview with Equine 74 Gastric, Dr Eiler talks about his experiences with equine stomach problems. He also gives tips on how to recognise gastric ulcer symptoms and what you can do about gastric ulcers. The aspects that Dr. Eiler discusses include the feeding of horses as well as a suitable preventive supplement against hyperacidity in the horse's stomach. 

As a practising veterinarian, how often do you come into contact with stomach problems in horses?

Dr Eiler: "Relatively often. I can't give you exact numbers, but stomach problems occur regularly with riding horses. I am sure, however, that breeding horses and young horses are affected more often than has been assumed. It is just less noticeable. Every now and then the owners notice when, for example, a two-year-old looks scraggy and meagre."

What are the symptoms?

Dr Eiler: "The owners often complain that their horses look gaunt and fatigued, even though they are fed a variety of supplementary feeds. Problems often occur with rideability as well. The horses aren’t supple during work, are less responsive and are not good rides. Another oft-described problem is a weak emotional state. The horses are described as nervous, distracted and jumpy, and less able to concentrate and less ready for action; for example, dressage horses are more likely to find it difficult to take a regular and relaxed step. 

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 which can be hard on 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 sensitive stomach. Anti-inflammatory drugs are basically being prescribed far too often." 

Which horses are affected by gastric ulcers? Meaning, does it involve primarily sport horses, or leisure horses as well?

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 competition and transport. I see a lot of stress from transport 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 stable at competitions.

Even if this is an unfamiliar place, it will help 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 can be affected as well, but it's less often recognized."

What therapy do you use to treat horses suffering from gastritis or gastric 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 contacted until at least moderate problems are noticed, or even after the development of gastric ulcers. Then I might recommend that one first administer an acid blocker like Gastrogard, and after this treatment to give the horse Equine 74 Gastric for a longer or sustained period.

Equine 74 Gastric contains red algae with a sponge-like structure, which ensures 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 advise the owners, so that their horses need not suffer from stomach problems in future?

Dr Eiler: "I give them an extensive consultation on 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 gastric ulcer didn’t develop in the first place. Prophylaxis is the key word here. The main causes are not enough exercise, especially in the winter, too much stress, and not enough roughage. Horses are constant eaters.

Their bodies are designed to continuously consume relatively large amounts of low-energy food. Most stables, however, have periods between feeding times which last far too long, and they feed horses too much concentrated feed which is difficult to digest. Both of these practices can cause stomach issues. My recommendation, therefore, is to let horses eat as much roughage as they like. One may also throw in oats 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."