Holes In Your Horses Stomach?

Riddle Me This ?

I was recently requested to give my horse "Ulcerguard" as a preventative measure. Honestly, this is not an action I would normally subscribe to but perhaps I am just old school? I mean really... Do people take aspirin for the headaches that they are "going" to have? But after pondering and quick text to my vet, I figured what harm could it do? Ulcers can be serious!

Gastric Ulcers

What Are Gastric Ulcers?

 Phury Relaxing 

Phury Relaxing 

A gastric ulcer is a wound or break in the horse’s stomach lining. There are proton pumps that produce hydrochloric acid, and other glands that produce enzymes to break down food in the lower two-thirds of the stomach which is well protected against stomach acid. The upper third of the stomach only has a delicate mucosal lining to protect the tissues. The margo plicatus is the distinct line that separates the lower and upper portions of the stomach. The acid levels in the stomach are very high in the lower region and become more neutral in the upper region. Most gastric ulcers occur above the margo plicatus. (http://www.succeed-equine.com/succeed-blog/2010/11/18/your-horse-ulcer-free-pt-2-equine-gastric-ulcers)

Causes of Gastric Ulcers

Ulcerations happen when the mucosal lining is weakened. There are several ways that this can happen.

1. Stomach acid splashing above the margo plicatus. Horses are always producing stomach acid. If they are not grazing, the acids are not buffered by their forage consumption and saliva production. Some owners believe this is enhanced during exercise and training when the acids in the lower portion of the stomach can splash up on the upper portion.

2. Parasites that colonize above the margo plicatus. Parasites such as bots in this particular area of the stomach. The bots leave pits in the stomach lining and ulcers can form from the open lesions.

3. Bacteria strains invading the stomach. Bacterial strains that can survive in hydrochloric acid have been discovered in humans therefore, it is possible that certain strains of bacteria could also thrive in the horse’s stomach.

4. Lack of constant ingestion of feed or roughage. When horses are fed two to three times a day, the stomach remains empty for prolonged periods of time without feed to neutralize the acid. Diets that are rich in grain produce fatty acids that can encourage the development of ulcers. (http://www.succeed-equine.com/succeed-blog/2010/11/18/your-horse-ulcer-free-pt-2-equine-gastric-ulcers/)

5. Transport and stall confinement stress. Transportation and stall confinement leads to intermittent feeding and lack of exposure and socialization to other horses. A recent study conclude that a few hours of transport can produce gastric ulceration in horses that did not have ulcers prior to being transported. (http://www.thehorse.com/articles/30850/diagnosing-and-treating-gastric-ulcers-in-horses)

Symptoms of Gastric Ulcers

There is not a definitive set of symptoms to help diagnose ulcers in the horse. Many of the symptoms are subtle changes in the horse’s behavior. Most cases of ulcers require an endoscopy performed by a veterinarian to determine if the horse has ulcers or not.

  • Weight loss
  • Irritability and other negative changes in attitude
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild colic
  • Wood chewing and cribbing
  • Less than optimal performance


Treatment Methods

Various medications are used for three purposes in treating gastric ulcers: to decrease acid production, to buffer the acid that is produced, and to protect the lining of the stomach from the corrosive effects of the acid. (http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?d=508&articleid=1587)

  • Gastrogard (omeprazole) is the only FDA-approved medication that is proven to heal ulcers even while horses continue to be exercised and trained.
  • H2 blockers, such as Cimetidine and ranitidine, are medications that block the production of histamine. Histamine stimulates stomach acid production.
  • Certain medications like Sucralfate, block acid from coming into contact with the stomach lining. (http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?d=508&articleid=1587)
  • Ulcergard (omeprazole) is the only FDA-approved medication that is proven to prevent ulcers from forming during times of increased stress or exercise. (https://www.smartpakequine.com/ps/ulcergard-2668)


by Ashley Reynolds & Kwase Hjulstrom