Equine ulcers are said to effect 50-90% of horses, so why is this condition so over-looked and underplayed? The biggest reason is because the horse is asymptomatic (shows no visible symptoms) and it comes and goes!
Sport horses or performance horses almost all will have ulcers. Almost 90% of Thoroughbred race horses have equine ulcers closely followed by endurance horses at 70-80% and more than 60% of show horses(I’d say this number is probably higher here too)!
In your horse’s life time chances are VERY good that your horse has had an issue with equine ulcers a number of times that got misdiagnosed or not noticed at all. And even better chance that your horse has them right now!
The horses’ stomach produces acid all the time up to 34 Liters being produced 24 hours a day – think how much that is for a second. Compare this to a large 1 Liter bottle of water now times by 34! So if the horse isn’t eating fiber rich hay/grass which should be close 20-22 hours out of the day to buffer the acids that are continuously being released then we have a problem. Horses are created to graze and eat all the time to be able to get the quantity of nutrients required for their daily lives. This is easily interrupted when horses are working. If your horse’s stress levels are minimal and good quality hay or pasture is provided 24/7 with ample movement (24/7 outdoors is best) and plenty of friends then read on for more possible reason for horse ulcers.
Let’s look at some of the signs and symptoms of an ulcer:
- Picky eater, appetite goes up and down mysteriously
- Rearing, bolting and bucking from pain
- Sensitive to being saddled, groomed, petted or touched in the least manner especially anywhere close to stomach area and kidney region of back this is typically a little behind where the saddle would sit
- Weight loss
- Lying down a lot more
- Diarrhea or looser stool than normal or change in manure a lot
- Looks in pain
- Teeth grinding
- Excessive salivation
- Cribbing (99.9% of the time this is digestion related this is not a vice)
- Chronic low-grade or full blown COLIC
- Aggravation of other health conditions that don’t respond to treatment due to mal-absorption of nutrients
- Hay belly due to malabsorption – horse eats a ton of hay but looks bloated yet ribby and un-thrifty
- Dull rough coat and bad hooves
- Black manure
- Horse looks stressed out all the time and is jumpy
How do we diagnose equine ulcers? I’d say if your horse is showing any of the symptoms above it is a good idea to treat naturally for ulcers first. Typically the most common way to test for equine ulcers is via gastric endoscopy but this too is only 50% accurate because the scope cannot possibly see all of the stomach and intestines! So even if the horse appears to have been cleared by your Vet do not rule it out just yet if the symptoms are still screaming ulcers! The other problem I have with gastric endoscopy is the horse has to be fasted for 12 hours – for a horse already with ulcers this could create more – remember the 34 Liters of acid being released every day? So in some instances this may make sense if that diagnosis is really needed but for the most part I’d say it is probably better to try and heal the gut naturally if you can first. Even though I’m not a big supporter in drugs like Omeprazole I would sooner give that for a few days and see how the horse reacts than to put them through the fasting to scope them if doing it naturally at first isn’t an option. But every situation is different and I believe taking your Vet’s and other holistic health care practitioners opinions seriously and weigh out the pros and cons with them.
The Other Causes to Equine Ulcers That Are Overlooked
- The administration of drugs such as Bute, Banamine and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories especially over longer periods of time and regularly can create or flare up ulcers.
- Heavy metal’s in the body (especially Aluminum, Arsenic, Lead and Mercury can interfere with proper digestion and cause symptoms or mimic symptoms of ulcers and colic – more on this later but you can have your horse’s hair tested to see if there indeed are heavy metals.
- GMO’s – genetically modified organisms cause INFLAMMATION especially in the gut!
What about the drugs to treat equine ulcers and is it okay to give on a continuous basis?
The quick answer to that is no. And the reason is depending on what type of drug is used it will inhibit proper digestion of food. Think heartburn for us and taking antacids – what does that do? It stops the stomach from being as acidic and actually prevents us from being able to digest food properly. Acid is needed to breakdown food! Same goes for horses. And as with any drug if there are side-effects and show me one that doesn’t have any I’d say weigh it very carefully. Besidesmedication treats the immediate symptom NOT the CAUSE! So you stop the medication and the problem returns why? Because it was never truly addressed. Besides drugs like Omeprazole and Pantoprasole stop gastric acid secretion completely this is not good for digestion period.
So how do you treat Equine Ulcers naturally?
- HAY: First provide good quality hay 24/7! If the horse is eating it all between feedings than you are not giving enough! There should be waste! Let me repeat that – there should be hay left over! This is because horses should be allowed to pick through the weeds and other non-palatable or unfavourable grasses or plants that their body is not naturally drawn to. If they were out in pasture they wouldn’t eat it all either but pick what is good for them. Same should be said of hay! For very severe cases you may want to soak hay till it’s soft so either soak in hot water for half an hour or so or cold water for at least an hour or over-night. Some horse’s stomachs are so sensitive and if their teeth aren’t the greatest and they don’t chew that’s a lot of rough material heading into the stomach which could aggravate;
- 24 HOUR TURN-OUT: Movement, movement, movement! Horses that are stalled have more ulcers – boredom equals stress! Please remember horses only sleep 3 hours a day – out of that real sleep and not simply dozing is only about 45 minutes and sometimes true REM sleep doesn’t occur every day it may be the third day. So in between eating and imagine if there is limited hay your horse is very hungry, bored and probably very lonely. This brings us to the next point;
- STEADY COMPANIONSHIP: Horses are herd animals. They need consistent tight knit relationships because they rely on each other for life. This is sometimes very difficult to do in a boarding situation especially for sensitive individuals that bond very easily with one particular horse (and this is VERY normal for them in the wild by the way). Horses such as these often times stress very much when their buddy is taken out for rides, shows or leaves all together. This creates much stress! I always say if you can afford two horses it is better for your horse to have a consistent friend that never really gets taken away in the long run. Even a goat companion is better than nothing;
- FEEDING: No grains! Especially ones containing lots of sugar/molasses. Pelleted feeds in themselves are not good for a horse’s digestion either. But now we have to worry about GMO’s as well in these feeds and we have a whole new problem.
- NO GMO’S: GMO’s are INFLAMMATORY! This means it can cause ulcers, colic, joint pains, allergies – I can go on and on! But the most vastly studied symptom of feeding genetically modified feeds is INFLAMMATION OF THE STOMACH AND INTESTINES AND ULCERS!!! When picking a feed read the labels and ask for a detailed analysis from the manufacturer as well. But I’ll save you the trouble most typical feeds out there are all GMO. So anything that contains any of the following in any form such as CORN, CORN OIL, SOY, BEET PULP, ALFALFA, WHEAT, CANOLA do not purchase and feed to your horse. It may take a few months for vague symptoms to arrive and your Vet will not put two and two together because so little is known about this still. If the above ingredients are not certified organic do not feed it to your horse. Even small amounts act like an allergen – so a handful of grain or pelleted feed can still cause symptoms and do damage. Think small amount of peanut butter can bring on an allergic reaction. Here is an excerpt from a research study paper about pigs fed GM feed and their incidence of gastro-intestinal problems… “Some of the investigators had also previously seen higher rates of intestinal problems in pigs fed a GM diet, including inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, stomach ulcers, a thinning of intestinal walls and an increase in haemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can rapidly “bleed-out” from their bowel and die. We weren’t able to look inside the intestines, due to the amount of food in them, but we were able to look inside the stomach. We found that the level of severe inflammation in stomachs was markedly higher in pigsfed the GM diet. Pigs on the GM diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs. Males were more strongly affected. While female pigs were 2.2 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation when on the GM diet, males were 4 times more likely. These findings are both biologically significant and statistically significant.” A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a mixed GM diet Adverse effects of GM crops found. By Dr. Judy Carman So why is inflammation so bad? Aside from causing pain it can also cause CANCER! Constant inflammation of any kind for long periods can cause cells to mutate and turn into tumour growths and cancer. So inflammation in the stomach or intestines for months if not years could cause malignant tumours. How many horses die of colic due to a blockage that never get truly diagnosed via an autopsy? Sometimes it isn’t a fecal blockage or twisted colon – it could be a growth blocking the intestines as well. Cancer is on the rise in people and animals. GMO’s, pesticides, chemicals and nutrient poor foods are to blame.
- AVOID PESTICIDES: Avoid pesticides, specially Round-Up ready crops that come drenched in them or worse have the pesticide incorporated in the DNA are also pro-flammatory! Try and choose organic wherever you can for your horse this means organic apples, carrots and if you know a farmer that doesn’t spray hay choose that if you can. More often than not hay is grown after a field of a cash crop as part of the rotation and to ‘sop’ up the additional pesticides in the ground. Guess who ends up eating it? That’s right your horse;
- NATURAL THERAPIES: Use herbs and homeopathic medicines to help treat the underlying cause. Bring inflammation down in a safe manner and heal the mucosal lining in the gut. It is best to get the help of a qualified herbalist and homeopathic practitioner as this is a chronic problem and should not be treated by yourself;
- WHOLE FOOD OR ORGANIC SUPPLEMENTS: Try use supplements that are organic and from whole food sources. Some horses are so sensitive that they can’t even handle supplements that are not organic and from whole food sources so if you’ve tried everything you may want to change this aspect as well next. Some supplements such as Vitamin C for example is made from corn – yes GMO corn. Even in these very small amounts it can make a difference. But don’t go changing your supplement if you can’t change the feed as that is a bigger amount and should be the first focus.
If you don’t know where to start or simply want the best for your horses choose our Nature Inspired Supplement for Horses it is non-GMO, organic made from whole foods that are nutrient dense.
ULCER & LEAKY GUT SYNDROME KIT – if you’ve read everything up until this point and are pretty sure your horse is suffering with equine ulcers and want to treat it. The best would be to start with our Ulcer and Leaky Gut Kit it has a herbal and homeopathic protocol that targets the cause of the ulcers.