Keeping Ulcers at Bay

ulcersatbay

I started giving my thoroughbred SmartGut last winter after she had an ulcer flare up and I had given her UlcerGard first. I kept her on it until summer and have only been giving it to her a couple times a week. She always does well in summer with lots of grass. Her hardest times are the change of seasons with going from grass to hay and the spring before grass is really good. What can I do this fall to avoid another attack? Will putting her back on daily SmartGut be enough or is there a better alternative? – TJ, Pennsylvania

Dear TJ,
What you describe is a common enough scenario and makes perfect sense, so hopefully I can provide some suggestions to get your mare through the upcoming rough patch. When I say your scenario makes sense, I mean that it’s understandable why a horse that’s prone to stomach ulcers would do well in the summer on pasture but struggle to maintain a healthy stomach in the spring and fall.

Unlike humans that only produce stomach acid after a meal, the cells in the horse’s stomach produce acid 24/7, whether there’s food present or not. So when horses are turned out on pasture with their buddies during the long days of summer there’s plenty of fresh, green grass to “soak up” the stomach acid and keep it from sloshing around in the stomach, damaging tissue. However, when the days get shorter and the grass isn’t as plentiful–forcing barns to return to feeding a couple flakes of hay a couple times of day—there are just too many hours in the day when your horse’s stomach is exposed to acid without the benefit of forage being there too.

While it’s not practical to pack up and move each season, following the grazing season around the country, there are some things you can do to help protect your horse during these transitions:

  • Keep forage in front of her all the time—Try using a small-hole hay net filled with grass hay to recreate the healthy grazing experience of “trickle feeding” all day long
  • Feed some alfalfa hay—several studies have shown that alfalfa hay has a protective effect on the stomach, possibly due to its high calcium content
  • Limit grain—concentrates however, tend to provoke ulcers, so complete and balance your mare’s diet with a multi-vitamin or ration balancer instead of grain, if possible

Because stress and exercise play a role in the formation of equine gastric ulcers, consider temporarily cutting back on strenuous work, not hauling to clinics or shows, and postponing preventive care like vaccinations and deworming until after she has adjusted to the change in diet. Of course, illnesses and injuries also create stress, so be sure any medical conditions are diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.

It sounds like your mare may be doing just fine with the occasional use of SmartGut. However, when you know a rough patch is coming up, consider moving up to the next tier of support for the stomach, SmartGut Ultra, and giving it every day. This supplement has been shown in a university study to help maintain stomach health in horses under stress and is a great daily complement to the use of UlcerGard as needed for extra support during particularly stressful times. While many people give UlcerGard before, during, and after events like shows and clinics, it may be best used in your mare during the spring and fall when the barn is changing from pasture to hay and vice versa. Explain the situation to your veterinarian and get his or her advice on whether omeprazole during stressful seasons and SmartGut/SmartGut Ultra in between is a good plan for your mare!

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Ask the Vet

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2 comments on “Keeping Ulcers at Bay
  1. Alex says:

    Have you tried using SeaBuck? Maybe SmartPak can get in touch with them?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Alex, thank you for asking! We do not currently offer Sea Buck, however I would definitely encourage you to submit a New Product Request: http://bit.ly/HRL69R. If you’re looking for a supplement with sea buckthorn, the SmartGut Ultra does contain this particular ingredient to help support stomach health. – Dr. Lydia Gray

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