Gastric ulcers are common in horses. Up to 92% of competitive and racing horses can have ulcers! The incidence in foals is as high as 52% especially during weaning. With more awareness and research, we are now understanding a lot more about gastric ulcers.
A horses stomach makes 1.5 litres of hydrochloric acid per hour regardless whether they are eating or not. The horse needs food in the stomach to soak up stomach acid, especially before exercise.
- Poor athletic performance.
- Wind sucking.
- Poor appetite.
- Sensitive around girth region and averse to grooming.
- Soreness over last rib and flank region, especially the right side.
- Dropping through withers when pressure is applied on top of vertebrae, even though saddle fits.
- Reluctant eating hay.
- Reluctant to hold vertebrae adjustments and is muscle sore for no apparent reason.
From an equine therapists point of view, often after treatment these points are still sore or the pain comes back. This can be due to gastric ulcers. Often the horse is sore on the right hind, may step short or have an odd gait. Curves to the left and pushes out through the right rib cage. The hind gut is on the right side. When there is pain due to gut pain and ulcers, the horse shows these symptoms and is very hard to straighten up with massage therapy. In the past I scratched my head and wondered what was wrong.
Pain in the wither region is often a saddle fitting issue, but when the professional saddle fitter comes out numerous times and can't find a problem with the saddle, ulcers is most likely the issue.
Some causes of Gastric Ulcers:
- Long periods of time without food.
- High grain diet.
- High sugar diet.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Environmental pollution and pesticides.
- Bad fitting saddle and the stress this causes.
- High levels of pain.
- Loss of a companion.
- Stabling for long periods of time due to injury.
- Fence walking and running.
A horse that does not get enough food or hay - they need food going through the stomach to soak up the gastric juices.
Prevention of Gastric Ulcers:
- Manage stress.
- Avoid your horse travelling on an empty stomach.
- Avoid fence walking.
- Avoid exercising on an empty stomach.
- If your horse is on a restricted pasture diet, make sure they have hay to eat at all times.