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Diagnosing Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Diagnosing Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

From stress, illness or dietary imbalances, horses of all ages or breeds are at risk of developing gastric ulcer syndrome. Today, our Versailles equine vets talk about gastric ulcer syndrome in horses, how it happens and what can be done to treat it.

Gastric Ulcers in Horses: What are they?

When ulcers are discovered on the stomach lining it is referred to as gastric or stomach ulcers. Horses can commonly experience ulcers and most will suffer from this condition at some point in their lives with a greater risk for athletic horses due to increased gastric acid production and decreased blood flow to the GI tract caused by excessive exercise.

Horses have smaller stomachs compared to other animals and because of this, they will opt to eat less but more frequently throughout the day. For horses that naturally graze this also means that their body will produce a steady supply of gastric acid in order to help with digestion although the feed and saliva will dilute this acid. In situations where the horse is fed twice a day such as during boarding, this acid can instead be over-produced and affect other parts of the digestive system leading to gastric ulcers.

The Typical Causes of Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in horses is generally caused by an imbalance between mucosal aggressive and protective factors. Prolonged exposure to hydrochloric acid, pepsin, bile or organic acids may lead to ulcers in the esophagus. When a horse experiences ulcers in this area it can be compared to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Syndrome (GERDS) in humans. 

The length of time that the horse experiences acid exposure will determine the severity of this condition. Ulcers that occur in the glandular mucosa of horses are typically caused by a disruption of blood flow and decreased mucus and bicarbonate secretion.

If a horse has been fasting or gone through long periods without eating it will be more likely to experience gastric ulcer syndrome along with foals that nurse or feed infrequently.

Gastric Ulcer Syndrom Symptoms in Horses

The majority of horses with gastric ulcers do not show outward clinical signs and can appear completely healthy. Some of the signs may include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Dullness
  • Attitude changes
  • Decreased performance
  • Reluctance to train
  • Poor body condition
  • Poor hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Low-grade colic
  • Girthiness

Clinical signs of ulcers in foals include intermittent colic (after suckling or eating), frequent recumbency, reduced nursing, diarrhea, poor appetite, a pot-bellied appearance, grinding of teeth, and excess salivation. Once these symptoms appear in foals the condition is already advanced and should be diagnosed and treated immediately.

Diagnosing Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Rather than attempting to use equine X-rays, which is a very useful type of equine diagnostic imaging, your vet will use a type of endoscope to perform a gastroscopy. With gastroscopy, your equine vet will use a thin, flexible tube, inserted through your horse's mouth, to view the upper digestive tract.

Treating Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses

If you have noticed any of the symptoms above in your horse or foal then you will want to have your horse examined by our Versailles vets. Once your horse has been diagnosed with gastric ulcer syndrome through our equine surgery and diagnostics department, our vets will be able to recommend the ideal treatment.

There are a variety of methods that have been used for the treatment and prevention of gastric ulcers in horses and foals. When it comes to medication, there is a paste that needs to be administered once daily for a duration of 28 days to treat gastric ulcer syndrome in horses. One of the added benefits of this medication is that it can be used for the prevention of the recurrence of gastric ulcers when administered at a half dose. While horse surgery can be a useful treatment method for many conditions, this concern is generally treated with medication and not through invasive measures.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate rules governing the care and transportation of equine animals, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you need to schedule equine diagnostic services including imaging for horses, please get in touch with Bluegrass Equine Surgery. Our vets are here to help with diagnosing and treating horses, from horse X-rays to equine surgery in Versailles.

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Whether you are looking to get involved with our rapidly-growing practice, or are seeking equine veterinary care, Bluegrass Equine Surgery welcomes you to get in touch. 

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