Higher Education

Managing Gastric Health in PATH Intl. Program Horses

By Jessica Normand, Member of the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

March 2019

Gastric ulcers are common in horses for a variety of reasons. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ online summary, Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome by Frank M. Andrews, DVM, MS, DACVIM, “Prevalence estimates have been reported to range from 25 to 50 percent in foals and 60 to 90 percent in adult horses, depending on age, performance, and evaluated populations.”

The horses that are our partners in equine-assisted activities and therapies can easily experience the risk factors of equine gastric ulcer syndrome and may also have added mental and emotional stress.

Risk Factors for Equine Gastric Ulcers

  • Stress in all forms (e.g., training, competition, shipping, injury, etc.)
  • Infrequent feeding
  • Large grain meals (feeding more than 0.5% of horse’s body weight in grain in a single meal)
  • Limited access to hay/pasture
  • Intense exercise
  • Excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Signs of Gastric Ulcers in Horses

  • Reduced appetite/changes in eating and drinking behavior
  • Weight loss/poor body condition
  • Poor attitude (girthiness, irritability, resistance, etc.)
  • Recurrent colic
  • Dull hair coat
  • Decreased performance

If you observe signs of gastric ulcers in the horses under your care, it is imperative that you involve your veterinarian for diagnosis and proper treatment. This may include the use of prescription medications such as GastroGard® (omeprazole), currently the only FDA-approved medication for the treatment of gastric ulcers in horses.

In addition to treatment, work with your veterinarian to adjust your horses’ management program in order to reduce the risk factors for gastric ulcers. Good practices include:

  • Feed forage frequently (consider “slow feed” style hay net or bag to make hay last longer and to mimic natural grazing behavior throughout the day)
  • Allow for pasture grazing, if available/appropriate (i.e., grass may not be ideal for overweight horses and those with metabolic conditions)
  • Consider adding some alfalfa to the horse’s forage, as it has been shown to benefit gastric health
  • Limit grain, and feed in multiple, small meals
  • Manage your horse’s stress, provide down time and provide as much turnout as possible
  • Consider a daily gastric supplement to proactively support and protect stomach tissues
  • If your horse needs NSAIDs for managing pain and inflammation, work with your veterinarian to determine appropriate dosing and administration
  • Ask your vet about the use of UlcerGard® (omeprazole), the only FDA-approved medication for prevention of gastric ulcers in horses, as needed during times of added stress, such as trailering, routine and herd changes, etc.

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