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Horses Today and Ulcers

Back in the day, gastric ulcers were rarely heard of unless it was on the racetrack, but these days’ ulcers are a daily topic of conversation between veterinarians and all types of horse owners. Even though they are wide spread, I’m going to give you some tips to help manage your horses’ ulcers and give you the symptoms to watch out for to help you & your vet to diagnose the problem.

What are Ulcers?: Gastric ulcers occur in the stomach when the stomach lining erodes due to exposure to concentrated stomach acid over time. Stomach acid will naturally eat away the lining, but normally the blood flow to the stomach wall helps the body create new stomach lining. Ulcers form when the stomach acid eats away the lining faster than the body can regenerate stomach lining.

What Causes Ulcers?: Several factors are blamed for causing ulcers. In broodmares, the growing foal crows the organs causing the stomach acid to rise & sit higher in the stomach, over time this will cause an ulcer. When you give non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Bute or Banamine for an extended amount of time, ulcers can form. That’s because these drugs cause the blood vessels to contract. This means less blood flow to the stomach wall. The most common cause of ulcers is stress, and I’m not talking about stress that we have in our everyday lives like paying bills. Your horse is constantly under physiologic stress – meaning it’s anything that gives your horse a fight or flight response. That kind of stress probably doesn’t happen every day in people. Think of when you get pulled over for speeding, your stomach falls, and your heart rate goes up, & you feel hot, tingly, and flushed. That is your fight or flight response kicking in. Now you might not think your horse experiences this type of stress but here are some common things that can cause true physiologic stress:

  • Showing
  • Stable Confinement
  • Losing a pasture buddy
  • Changes in barn mates
  • Intense Training
  • Unpredictable Feeding Times
  • Visits from the vet or farrier

Here are some symptoms associated with ulcers:

  • Grinding Teeth
  • Girthiness
  • Behavioral Issues
  • Runny Feces
  • Finicky Appetite
  • Poor Body Condition
  • Recurrent Colic
  • Dull Hair Coat
  • Cribbing – Cribbing can be a way the your horse is trying to self medicate. However, managing the ulcer probably won’t fix the cribbing.
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