A horse needs to graze for approximately 17 hours daily to meet his nutritional needs, so his stomach was designed to continuously produce acid to aid in digestion. In a natural grazing situation, where a horse is eating and chewing all day, the stomach acid produced is buffered by forage and saliva, keeping it from damaging the sensitive stomach lining. However, modern horse keeping and feeding practices are often at odds with how horses naturally live and eat, which can lead to big problems for their stomach, such as gastric ulcers. Let’s take a deeper look inside your horse’s stomach to see how ulcers form and what warning signs you should watch out for.
How it works
Your horse’s stomach is covered with two types of lining: the glandular mucosa and the non-glandular (squamous) mucosa.
The glandular mucosa, which contains the glands that constantly produce acid to aid in digestion, covers the bottom 2/3 of the stomach. This region also produces mucus and bicarbonate to help protect the stomach from acid exposure.
The more sensitive non-glandular mucosa covers the top 1/3 of the stomach. This area is where stomach contents are mixed, usually with buffering from food and saliva, so it doesn’t have as much natural protection from acid.
What goes wrong
The longer your horse’s stomach sits empty, the more at risk he is for developing gastric ulcers because the acid in his stomach isn’t being buffered by forage and saliva.
- Excess acid can build up into the unprotected squamous mucosa and eat through the lining, creating painful ulcers.
- Acid may splash around in the stomach during exercise, particularly if the stomach is empty, irritating the stomach lining and existing ulcers.
- Large grain meals can increase acid levels in the stomach, increasing your horse’s risk for gastric ulcers.
Warning signs to watch out for
Reluctance to eat or drink
Dull hair coat
Agitation at feeding time
Mild, recurrent abdominal pain
Did you know?
The only treatment for gastric ulcers is prescription medication.
Ulcer risk factors
Some aspects of modern-day horse keeping can affect your horse’s risk for developing gastric ulcers, and the best thing you can do for your horse is to get educated. Read on to learn more about some common risk factors for gastric ulcers and how you can help support your horse.
Risk factor: Intermittent feeding
Your horse’s stomach was designed for constant grazing, not 2–3 large meals with nothing in between. The longer his stomach sits empty, the more his sensitive gastric lining is exposed to harsh stomach acids.
Ideally, your horse should have free choice access to hay and/or pasture all day. If that’s not possible (or not appropriate, as in the case of an easy keeper), a small hole hay net can help your horse enjoy his hay longer.
Risk factor: Stress
From stall confinement to limited social interaction to changes in routine, there are a variety of things that could be contributing to your horse’s stress level and increasing his risk for gastric ulcers.
Try to find ways to reduce stress in your horse’s life. Some ideas include providing as much turnout as possible, preferably with other horses to allow for social interaction, and keeping a consistent feed, Turnout, and exercise schedule.
Risk factor: Traveling and competing
Taking a drive may sound nice and relaxing for you, but trailering to horse shows and changing environments can be stressful for your horse.
Consider providing your horse with extra support from UlcerGard® during times of added stress. UlcerGard® is the only non-prescription medication approved by the FDA for the prevention of equine gastric ulcers. Giving UlcerGard® once daily during times of additional stress can help reduce your horse’s risk.
Risk factor: Large grain meals
Large grain meals can increase the acid levels in your horse’s stomach.
Aim to feed the minimum amount of grain your horse needs to maintain optimal body condition and performance level. Keep in mind that for many horses, that’s no grain at all! Learn more at SmartPak.com/BetterDiet
Make sure you work with your veterinarian to see if your horse does in fact have gastric lesions.