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From AAEP’s Ask the Vet: Feeding to Prevent Ulcers

My stallion has ulcers every couple of years. What would be a good diet for him? At present he gets good quality alfalfa / grass hay with about one pound of 12% sweet feed daily at 6:30 am and 3:30 pm. All the fresh water he can drink. – Glen

Dear Glen,

To help you with your ulcer-prone horse, here are the recognized risk factors for gastric ulcers in horses:

• Intermittent feed deprivation—not having food in the stomach is such a reliable risk factor for ulcers that researchers withhold food on purpose to induce the condition for studies!
• Intense exercise—there appears to be an association between the level of exercise intensity and the prevalence of ulcers
• Diet—concentrate (grain) feeding is believed to contribute to the formation and worsening of ulcers
• Stall confinement—could be due to intermittent feeding, lack of contact with other horses, stress, or other reasons
• Transportation—similar to stall confinement, could be a result of decreased food (and water), separation from other horses, or just the stress of being hauled to a new location
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—this class of drugs disturbs the balance of protective vs aggressive factors in the stomach
• Stress—either mental or physical stress could increase the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body, which has been shown to shut down protective factors in the stomach

Now that you are familiar with the risk factors for gastric ulcers, what can you specifically do to eliminate or reduce them in your horse? Without knowing what you do with your horse (exercise, trailering, etc.) or how you keep him (stall, dry lot, pasture), I will stick to recommendations concerning diet.

Since he’s only getting one pound of sweet feed at his morning and afternoon meals, is it possible just to remove this grain altogether from his feeding regimen? This small amount is not enough to provide him with much nutrition in the way of protein, vitamins and minerals, but it may be enough to aggravate his stomach tissue. Try feeding a ration balancer or multi-vitamin/mineral supplement instead to complete and balance his diet.

I like that you’re feeding some alfalfa hay, as it may result in improvement in both the number and severity of gastric ulcers. Scientists aren’t sure if it’s the high protein, high calcium, or something else about alfalfa that is responsible for this result, but let’s use this forage to our advantage! Probably the best way to reap the benefits of alfalfa is to provide a flake with his meals morning and afternoon, then keep grass hay in front of him all the time so he always has something in his stomach. There are a couple of ways to keep him slowly nibbling around the clock, one is a small hole hay net. Maybe these were introduced to the market for the overweight, easy keepers, but I’ve found them to be super helpful for horses prone to ulcers as a safe method to provide free-choice grass hay without the waste or extra calories.

Finally, ask your veterinarian if a supplement to support stomach health might be a good choice for your horse. From antacids designed to temporarily neutralize stomach acid to amino acids like glutamine to other natural agents like pectin/lecithin, seabuckthorn and aloe, there are a variety of natural ingredients to select from with solid science behind them. Give a product for a month and see if it makes a difference; if not, choose a different one. Best of luck finding a diet, management and supplement program that helps your stallion!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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Posted in Ask the Vet, G.I. Conditions

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5 comments on “From AAEP’s Ask the Vet: Feeding to Prevent Ulcers
  1. Patty says:

    Try Papaya. My friend swears by it. She runs a boarding stable and gives it to all the horses and it helps the new arrivals avoid those transportation stresses.

  2. GWoodward says:

    Research has shown that ulcers in humans is caused by a virus. Why would’nt this be the same in an animal ?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Thanks for your question. Just to be clear, ulcers in humans can be caused by a bacteria, not a virus, called Helicobacter. While DNA from this bacteria has been found in the stomachs of horses, scientists haven’t been able to prove a link between the presence of the bacteria and equine gastric ulcers. However, they have been able to demonstrate that management factors such as intermittent feeding, high grain diets, stress, excessive use of NSAIDs, and very intense exercise all can cause ulcers in horses. – SmartPaker Kerri

  3. Elsie says:

    My mare may be dealing with a hindgut ulcer…would there be a different supplement to recommend when this is the case? Succeed seems to fix it but I’d like to feed to prevent it. Thanks!

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Elsie, I’m sorry to hear about your mare’s health condition.
      Ulcers in the hindgut will require specific veterinary care both
      to diagnose – as well as treat. The best recommendation I can give you
      is to work closely with your veterinarian to evaluate your mare’s
      condition – and develop a treatment, management, and nutrition plan to help her get back on track. – Dr. Lydia Gray

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