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Horse Symptoms: Preventing Horse Ulcers

Horse Symptoms: Preventing Horse Ulcers

There are many factors that can cause horse ulcers and not all horse ulcers are the same. Antibiotic therapy, stress, and digestive problems are among the main causes of ulcers in horses. Stress that causes horse ulcers can be the result of many different life situations. Horses can be stressed by situations such as travel, horse shows, heavy training, a new environment, confinement or an abrupt change in weather. Horse ulcers also can occur as an inflammation anywhere in the digestive tract not just in the stomach. Ulcers in horses can manifest in the upper or non-glandular part of the stomach, lower or glandular part of the stomach, duodenum (upper part of the small intestine) or colon (large intestine). Since ulcers in different parts of the digestive tract occur for different reasons, different treatments work better according to where the ulcer is located. Of course the best treatment is prevention and not getting to the point where your horse is dealing with an ulcer.

Horse Symptoms: What to Watch for

How do you know if your horse may have developed an ulcer? The general symptoms of horse ulcers to watch for include:

  • diminished appetite
  • colic
  • frequent pawing
  • weight loss
  • poor performance
  • reluctance to eat grain but ready consumption of hay
  • sore back
  • in foals, colic, a pot-bellied appearance, teeth grinding, and excessive salivation

 Horse Symptoms: How Horse Ulcers Develop

Where the ulcer is located gives us information on how the ulcer was formed. Ulcers in the upper part of the stomach, which are also called gastric ulcers, develop when acid from the lower part of the stomach comes in contact with the lining in the upper part of the stomach. Ulcers in horses found in the lower part of the stomach, the glandular part that secretes hydrochloric acid, are another form of gastric ulcer and are commonly caused by NSAIDs like Bute or Banamine. These drugs interfere with the stomach’s ability to generate the mucous barrier in the lower stomach that normally protects the stomach lining from the acid. Horse ulcers in the duodenum or the upper part of the small intestine commonly occur from indigestion or when the digestive process is interrupted. One way this can happen is when a horse is under stress. Stress triggers a sympathetic nervous system response (also called the fight-or-flight reflex) causing the digestive process to stop.

  • Improper digestion can also prevent the small intestine from completely digesting starches. These partially-digested starches are then dumped into the colon, which is meant to digest fiber rather than starches. As a result, the bacterial population that normally lives in the colon and digests fiber dies off, and is replaced by starch-digesting bacteria from the small intestine. While this takes care of digesting starches, the colon can no longer digest fiber. The undigested fibers rot in the colon, producing toxins that irritate the colon wall, ultimately causing ulcers.
  • Since prevention is the best medicine, let’s look at some ways to prevent ulcers in horses according to some of the different causes.
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