Ulcer Syndrome: Republished from MadBarn
Let’s save the boring stats that every article discussing equine
gastric ulcers quotes. If you keep your horse in a stall
and/or do any level of training and you are still reading this
article, there is an extremely high probability your horse has
Why? Murray (1994)
demonstrated that alternating periods of feeding and withholding
hay resulted in progressive erosion and ulceration of the gastric
squamous epithelial mucosa (upper portion of the stomach).
Further to this, concentrate (grain feeding) has been implicated in
the development and progression of ulcers (Nadeau et al.,
2000). Confinement in stalls is implicated as well, but
confounded by the above-mentioned factors of grain feeding and
anything less than constant feeding/grazing of forages (Murray and
There is a good chance if your horse in in training, it is going
through some level of feed deprivation, grain feeding and/or being
housed in a stall and is likely to develop or has already developed
ulcers. Not to oversimplify this complicated issue, but the
literature constantly points to two root causes of ulcers: 1)
stress and 2) feed deprivation. You cannot overlook stress;
as the smallest change in environment and routine will cause a
Determining if your horse definitively has ulcers is no easy
task. Clinical signs of ulcers are non-specific and include
lack of appetite, weight loss/poor body condition, mild or
recurrent colic and loose feces (Bell et al., 2007). There
are no hematological or biochemical markers currently available to
diagnose ulcers (Vatistas et al 1999). Endoscopic evaluation
is the only way to be certain, but even then, degree of ulceration
does not always correlate to symptoms.
Management and diet is the first place to start for treatment of
ulcers, but sometimes other interventions are necessary based on
the horse’s profession/activities. Proton pump inhibitors,
like Omeprazole, are one of the most common treatments. Less
common are the H2 receptor antagonists, such as Cimetidine.
They both attempt to do the same thing, limit acid production in
the stomach and increase pH of the stomach. This is great for
treating ulcers, but not so great for digestion, as that is the
main purpose of the stomach, to acidify food and activate local
enzymes. These drugs have been used quite successfully to
help alleviate symptoms and treat ulcers, but as with all classes
of drugs, continued use is not without concern and cost to most
This leaves owners searching for alternatives. The market
is overrun with supplements claiming to aid the treatment of
ulcers, but few if any have more than anecdotal evidence of
efficacy. This leaves most horse owners at cross roads, stick
with chronic drug treatment or try to navigate through the sea of
claims in the supplement marketplace and hope the dollars spent
will provide their competitive companion with more than a placebo
for the owner.
Alternatively, horse owners can look to a clinically tested
alternative to drugs that utilizes the latest in nutraceutical
ingredients to both alleviate the pain of ulcers and promote
healing. Visceral+ was developed and tested in conjunction
with veterinarians to help reduce the reliance on Omeprazole
treatments and has successfully concluded clinical trials, with
very positive results.
An oft asked question, but one difficult to answer is: “how long
will it take before the ulcers heal?” Murray et al (1994)
found that superficial lesions may take as little as 7 days to
heal, but with deeper wounds, it may take up to 3 months to
heal. That is a wide range. Not only was degree of
ulceration important, but location impacted healing time.
Furr and Murray (1999) indicated that lesions along the Margo
Plicatus took the longest time to heal. Furthermore, the
cause of the ulcer must be removed for complete healing to
occur. Without removing the root cause, one can expect to
deal with complications from ulcers or to at least have to maintain
their horse on treatments for ulcers until such time as the root
causal agent can be removed.
Gastric ulcers are a frustrating reality of competitive horses
that costs not only in performance, but welfare as well.
Providing an optimal diet and environment is obviously the best
solution, but when this can’t always be the case, at least suitable
treatments are available to maintain the health, welfare and
performance of your equine companion.
RJW Bell , TD Mogg & JK Kingston. Equine
gastric ulcer syndrome in adult horses: A review, New Zealand
Veterinary Journal, 55:1,
Furr MO, Murray MJ.
Treatment of gastric ulcers in
horses with histamine type-2 receptor antagonists.
(Supplement 7), 77–9,
Equine model of inducing
ulceration in alimentary squamous epithelial mucosa.
Digestive Diseases and
Sciences 39, 2530–5, 1994.
Murray MJ, Eichorn
ES. Effects of
intermittent feed deprivation, intermittent feed deprivation with
ranitidine administration, and stall confinement with ad libitum access to hay on gastric ulceration in
horses. American Journal
of Veterinary Research
57, 1599–603, 1996
Nadeau JA, Andrews FM,
Mathew AG, Argenzio RA, Blackford JT, Sohtell M, Saxton
AM. Evaluation of diet
as a cause of gastric
ulcers in horses. American Journal of Veterinary Research
61, 784–90, 2000
Vatistas NJ, Snyder JR,
Carlson G, Johnson B, Arthur RM, Thurmond M, Zhou H, Lloyd
study of gastric ulcers of the squamous mucosa in Thoroughbred
Veterinary Journal (Supplement 29), 34–9, 1999
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