Horse Stomach Ulcers - Treatment and Prevention

Studies reveal that all horses are at risk of developing horse stomach ulcers or equine gastric ulcers at some point in their lives. 

The condition involves an ulceration of the oesophageal, gastric or duodenal mucosa. Horse stomach ulcers are particularly rife in performance horses with studies revealing them present in over 70% of the population.

See below for the most common causes of equine ulcers as well as a guide on the prevention and treatment of this painful, common condition.

Diet is a Major Contributor

More often than not, a combination of the following factors increase the chance of a horse developing ulcers:

  •   Low roughage intake
  • Withholding feeding for a long period
  • Training on an empty stomach
  • Stress (including physical and behavioural stress)

 Prevention makes for Good Management

Ideally the prevention of ulcers is much better than treating them. It’s important, especially for the performance horse, to encourage better digestive health.

Here are our top tips on how to prevent your beloved horse from developing ulcers. While they don't guarantee ulcers won't form, if you follow these tips, it's certainly a good start:

  • Providing as much turnout as possible with other horses
  • Offering forage (quality hay or grass) continuously around the clock
  • Feeding alfalfa, which is shown to help buffer stomach acids
  • Reducing grain-based feed intake
  • Providing fats as a source of energy/calories
  • Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day 
  • Mixing chaff with grain meals to increase chewing and slow intake
  • Using hay nets or slow feeders to increase chewing and slow intake
  • Feeding beet pulp, a complex carbohydrate metabolized in the hindgut, for higher caloric needs

How to detect horse stomach ulcers

 Currently the only way to accurately confirm ulcers are present in a horse is by having a vet perform Esophagogastroscopy also know as Gastroscopy.  It is usually administered by depriving the horse of food for at least 12 hours and can be quite stressful.

You can now get a good indication (without the stress) with this acupressure technique or treat your horse with a trial dose to see if symptoms subside.

How to Treat Horse Ulcers once they've been confirmed

Most vets will prescribe some combination of the following:

  • Omeprazole to suppress production of gastric acid and give the tissue time to heal and prompt the horse to eat (further suppressing the effect of excess stomach acid). An excellent option that is very affordable is Abler's  AbPrazole and AbPrazole Plus, which are easy to use, once a day treatments available in paste, tablet and granule form.

  • A high-roughage, low-concentrate diet
  • Removal of horse from heavy work or competition schedule.
  • Antibiotics, because bacteria may be a cause
  • A nutritional digestive supplement to support healthy gut structure and function, especially of the hindgut while suppressing stomach acids
  • Mucosal protectants, such as sulcrafate or pectin-lecithin. These are recommended for use along with omeprazole to aid healing in glandular ulceration.

To find out more about medication for equine ulcers - and where you can get these medications online without a prescription - visit this page.