Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Photo by: Bigstockphoto
Photo by: Bigstockphoto

Did you know that almost 50% of foals and about a third of adult horses are afflicted with Equine gastric ulcer? In fact, ulcer is the most common medical condition in foals and horses. On the other hand, over 60% of show horses and 90% of racehorses are afflicted with moderate to severe ulcers.

Equine gastric ulcer disease or EGUD doesn’t just affect the quality of life of your horses, it could potentially lead to dangerous health complications too. And to understand the disease and learn what treatments to get, you need to know how the animal’s stomach works:

Anatomy of a Horse’s Stomach

Despite its size, a horse’s stomach is smaller than a human’s stomach. The animal’s stomach is divided into two parts: non-glandular portion or the esophageal region and the glandular portion. The non-glandular portion is lined with soft tissues similar to the lining of the esophagus. On the other hand, the glandular portion holds stomach juices (hydrochloric acid) and digestive enzyme pepsin. The glandular stomach is coated with a special enzyme that protects the tissues from the digestive aids.

Unfortunately, a horse’s stomach always produces hydrochloric acid. As the acids accumulate in the stomach, the liquid will start oozing into the non-glandular portion of the animal’s stomach. Sustained exposure to damaging stomach acids leads to gastric ulcer.

Causes of EGUD

Many factors increase the risk of EGUD in horses. These factors include fasting, the quality of the feed, the amount of exercise the animal gets as well as the types of medications the horse is taking.

If the condition is caused by fasting, allow the animal to eat small meals every day. Horses and foals love to graze. When the stomach contains food, the gastric juices will not build up. As for the types of feeds given to the horse, go for those that contain a lot of roughage to stimulate saliva production. The saliva of the horse will neutralize the gastric juices in the stomach.

Intense exercise could increase the risk of EGUD in horses. The same thing goes if the animal is made to exercise when it has not eaten yet. Stressing the animal also stimulates the production of gastric juices, leading to the onset of EGUD.

Finally, certain medications – such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) – inhibit the production of a certain chemical called PgE2. PgE2 decreases the production of acid in the stomach. Low levels of PgE2 increases the risk of EGUD.

Signs and Symptoms of EGUD

The most common signs and symptoms of EGUD among foals are loss of appetite, decreased period of nursing, teeth grinding and excessive production of saliva. Other symptoms include intermittent colic, diarrhea and lying on the back.

In adults horses, the common signs and symptoms of EGUD include loss of appetite, poor body condition, and a dull coat. Other symptoms of EGUD include poor performance, attitude changes and mild colic.

EGUD Treatments

EGUD is treatable through medication and lifestyle changes. The most common meds for EGUD are H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and antacids. Certain drugs could also inhibit the acids from entering the non-glandular portion of the stomach.

Adding more fiber to the animal’s diet also helps decrease the risk of EGUD. Do not decrease the amount of grain given to the animal to prevent the onset of ulcer.