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Gastric Ulcers in Horses


The horse in its natural environment should spend up to 16 hours per day feeding in a herd, with the occasional need to move at high speed to evade predators. In this state the horse’s naturally acidic stomach contents are buffered by saliva produced in response to regular eating.

What causes gastric ulcers?

There are several factors that contribute to ulcers. A lack of fibre is one of the major caHappy Horsesuses as the horse’s natural trickle grazing would normally provide protection against ulcers – the presence of fibrous material in the stomach acts as a physical barrier literally stopping the acid coming into contact with the stomach lining. Constant chewing produces saliva that helps to neutralise acid produced in the stomach. Any horse or pony that has restricted access to forage can be vulnerable to ulcers, which is why it is a problem that can affect racehorses as well as good doers.

Other factors that contribute to ulcers include exercise and stress

Could my horse have ulcers?

Not all horses and ponies show classic symptoms of ulcers, but the following are indicators that suggest you may want to ask your vet to check for ulcers:

  • grumpy behaviour particularly when girthing up· stereotypic behaviour such as cribbing or wind-sucking· poor condition· weight loss· repeatedly suffers from ‘gassy’ colic after eating· starts to eat but keeps stopping· reluctance to eat

Managing a horse prone to ulcers and stomach upsets

There are various antacid medications that your vet may prescribe and alongside these it is important to feed and manage your horse or pony in a way that reduces the risk of ulcers recurring. The following tips should be implemented:

  • Feed plenty of forage. This promotes chewing and naturally regulates the level of acidity in the stomach.
  • Continuous access to forage when stabled
  • Use low calorie forages for good doers to provide chew time without the weight gain.
  • Reduce the use of cereals or – even better – remove them completely from the ration. Cereals create more acidic conditions in the gut.
  • Use higher energy forages to supply energy without the need to use cereals.
  • Include alfalfa in the ration. Independent research at Texas A&M University has shown alfalfa is a natural buffer to acidity due to its protein and calcium content.
  • Exercise intensity may need to be reduced to allow recovery from ulcers.
  • Turn out as much as possible to supply fibre, relaxation and avoid any unnecessary stressful situations.