Got a horse who's been diagnosed with gastric ulcers? Olivia Colton MSc, senior nutritionist at Feedmark shares her tips for what you can do.
What are gastric ulcers?
Gastric ulcers are lesions in the horse’s stomach, caused by exposure of the delicate stomach lining to gastric acid.
Unlike humans, who only produce stomach acid when we're eating, horses continuously secrete gastric acid. If your horse's stomach is empty for too long, or he's fed certain foods, ulcers can quickly appear.
Symptoms of gastric ulcers are varied and can include (but aren't limited to) your horse not liking to be touched on his sides and stomach, behaviour that's out of character, being oversensitive to leg aids, reluctant to eat or looking a bit dull.
The definitive way to diagnose ulcers is for your vet to scope your horse.
Aren't gastric ulcers just a problem for racehorses?
The management and feeding of racehorses predisposes them to ulcers, with many of them being affected to some degree.
It's estimated that up to 50% of leisure horses can suffer too. Luckily, there are easy nutrition management practices you can follow that reduce the risk.
Feeding to reduce risk of ulcers
Where possible, provide ad-lib forage. This provides a fibre mat in the stomach, reducing acid splash. Forage also requires a lot of chewing, which produces acid-buffering saliva.
If your horse is a good doer, he should do well being fed a vitamin and mineral supplement or balancer, which will supply him with all the nutrients he needs.
For a poor doer, look for higher energy fibre feeds, such as unmolassed sugar beet and alfalfa, which are high in acid-neutralizing calcium. Don’t forget to add vitamins and minerals if necessary.
Some suitable feeds will display the BETA EGUS (equine gastric ulcer syndrome) approval mark.
If extra calories are needed, slowly introduce oil to the diet - up to 100ml per 100kg bodyweight can be fed if added over the course of several weeks.
It’s also a good idea to add a gastric supplement to the feed, to help keep your horse’s stomach healthy.
For more advice and tips on horse nutrition visit www.feedmark.com