Stomach ulcers are not only painful for us humans, they are also unpleasant for horses. Unfortunately, they often go undetected because the symptoms are non-specific. Here are a few warning signs to help you diagnose stomach issues.
How do you recognise stomach problems?
The symptoms are different in different horses. Horses also experience different intensities of stomach issues. This makes it so difficult to recognise stomach ulcers. Some animals hardly behave differently when they're suffering, while others behave very differently even if they are only feeling a small amount of discomfort.
Here are a few typical symptoms:
Loss of appetite or constant eating
Emaciation (rather rare)
Decline in willingness to perform
Behavioural changes: nervousness, aggressiveness
Since these symptoms are so unspecific, veterinary advice should always be sought before treatment.
Causes of stomach ulcers
The causes are not clear, ulcers are probably a result of a combination of genetics and the environment. Stallions and mares are more susceptible than geldings and thoroughbreds are more likely to have problems than cold-blooded horses. Environmental factors like housing, feeding, physical stress and general mental health also influence your horse's health.
Feeding errors can lead stomach ulcers: if you feed your horse too much concentrated feed and too little fibre, or give them the concentrate before their fibre or take too many breaks between meals, your horse could be at risk.
In the wild, horses eat for 16 hours a day. Their small stomachs mean that they cannot eat very much in one go. That's why they are always producing bile. If their stomachs are empty for too long, their stomach acid attacks the unprotected stomach lining. Normally, when the horse is chewing, saliva provides a buffer in their stomach. However, horses chew concentrate faster than fibre, which produces less saliva.
A constantly irritated stomach lining can lead to ulcers over time. Stressed horses are also susceptible to ulcers.
How are gastric ulcers diagnosed?
A precise diagnosis of gastric ulcers can only be made by looking directly at them. A gastroscopy must be undertaken by a vet. Since the horses should not be fed for 24 hours beforehand, it may cause additional discomfort for them. Consult your vet before treatment.
Prevention - the most important factor
The best way to treat stomach ulcers is to prevent them from occurring. Here are a few tips for prevention:
Feed them high-quality, high-fibre hay.
Never use straw as a complete feed.
Avoid products that contain sugar and starch.
Never feed them concentrated feed on an empty stomach and only feed them small quantities over the course of the day.
Vegetable oils are recommended as an energy source instead of concentrated feed.