Controlling ulcers in horses
Ulcers are the buzz word in horse performance these days.
There doesn’t a day go by when someone tells me their horse has ulcers or symptoms.
And they are probably correct – and we have lived with the for years.
The riding school pony that hated having his girth done up is a classic example of where this may well have been an underlying case of ulcers.
You may also see them manifest in other ways – tightness in the body during work for example.
A failure to gain weight, a loss of weight without explanation, a loss of appetite, dull coat or indeed excess yawning can all be symptoms that your horse is suffering from ulcers.
Its totally unproven, but I am convinced that wind-sucking may cite ulcers as a cause in some circumstances.
Now which comes first is a moot point as pretty much everything above is interlinked.
Stress – Windsucking – Loss of appetite – Loss of weight
Failure to intake food – loss of energy – dull coat – tiredness (yawning)
You see where we are going with this – it can potentially get complex.
So what causes them?
The horse’s stomach is continuously secreting digestive acids. If the stomach lining is exposed to this acid for a prolonged period of time, the stomach lining will be damaged. In the wild, where horses graze up to 16 hours per day, the acidity in the stomach is reduced by the trickle feeding of grass. The bicarbonate in the saliva reduces the acidity as well. The horse produces saliva while it is eating.
If horses are fed high concentrate feeds with only limited access to forage, they will chew less and the stomach will be empty for large parts of the day. As a result, the acidity level in the stomach will be higher which increases the risk of ulcers.
To protect the stomach lining from the natural acid environment, there are specialised cells, foveolar cells, which produce a protective mucin coating. The mucin secretion stops if the stomach contains too much acid. The stomach lining will then become exposed to a rising acidity as a result of which specific bacteria can thrive eating the stomach lining which will eventually lead to ulcers.
I should also add that stress can very well be a contributing factor. As it is in humans and well recognised as such.
So how do we treat them?
Well obviously there is a case for an omeprazole based product such as Gastroguard. There are other ones on the market but I have to say our experience is that this is still the best.
Its expensive and so not a route to go down lightly.
It is something only your vet can prescribe – but to quickly get the problem solved it is certainly proven to work.
It is relatively inert as far as drugs go – and is allowed under FEI rules. For this reason it is not uncommon to see competition horses with a long journey being given this prophylactically.
I have to say that our experience, having been persuaded to convert from the Gastroguard in this circumstance (i.e before travel) to the Cavalor Gastro8 Paste is that we have noticed no real difference in the status of performance of the horse.
The big difference is in our pocket – Gastro8 Paste = £8.00. Gastroguard = £20+
Give it a try next time you travel – we don’t think you will be disappointed.
Back at home we have to look at the environment of the horse – to reduce its exposure to stress – and also its feeding programme.
Fibre is important
It is always important that horses mimic their natural environment as much as possible.
Ad lib – or frequently in controlled portions – hay is the best starting point to manage ulcers.
Access to forage before and during travelling is also a good tip that will ensure your horse arrives at an event in top condition.
But in terms of actual feed from the feed bin there are a couple of routes we can go down.
Firstly PAVO Speedibeet is a good basis to start – and indeed can help prevent ulcers.
“I’ve heard all of this before you say, another product that will stop something.”
Well, clinical tests have shown that at high levels of acidity pectin forms a thick gel which strengthens and thickens the stomach lining. Pavo SpeediBeet is rich in pectin; sugar beet fibre contains approximately 30% pectin.
Various types of feed have various capacities to absorb stomach acid. This is known as ‘Acid Binding Capacity’ or ABC value. This is measured as ‘the quantity of acids that the feed contains at various acidity levels of the stomach’. The higher the value, the higher the acid binding capacity (ABC).
Cereals and other starchy feeds have a relatively low ABC. Feeds with a relatively high level of proteins (legumes) or soluble sugars (sugar beet) have much higher ABC values. Pavo SpeediBeet has an excellent capacity for absorbing stomach acid, especially if it is given as the first meal in the morning.
In summary, Pavo SpeediBeet contains a high level of pectin which helps strengthen the protective stomach lining. In combination with the capacity of absorbing large quantities of acid, Pavo SpeediBeet can help reduce the conditions in which ulcers occur.
But SpeediBeet alone is not really enough, so we must calculate what else to feed to give the horse the nutrition it requires.
Like most things in life there is a compromise to be reckoned with.
Leisure horses have options. Products like FiberForce are perfect additions to the Beet – they have lots to help the horse. But, they really do not provide enough energy for the top performing horses.
So we must add concentrated rations accordingly, split into manageable doses throughout the day.
We can counteract the digestive effects of this, if necessary with specific supplements that are designed to help.
Cavalor FibreForce is a new product to Equitain and we have used this on the yard with extremely good results. It is not only a good ration for horses with stomach issues, it is a good ration for horses in normal work loads as well.
Cavalor Gastro8 is a product specifically designed to reduce gastric irritation on several levels. It helps manage the pH of the stomach and protects the stomach wall against gastric irritation. It is a product fed on a more regular basis than the Gastro8 Paste.
A couple of other products to cast an eye over include
- Vitaflor 365 – works to help the horse maximise their intake from the food they consume. This may result in the horse requiring less concentrate which is normally beneficial in the fight against ulcers
- Digest – Promotes and strengthens the intestinal flora helping those with sensitive digestive system.