Equine stomach ulcers

General Information

What are stomach ulcers?

Stomach ulcers in horses are erosions in the lining of the stomach, usually caused by excessive acid production and decreased natural buffers like saliva. Grazing horses produce more saliva and have a more alkaline pH in the gut, therefore horses that spend the majority of their time grazing are less likely to have stomach ulcers. Added stresses such as traveling, showing, training, and even prolonged stall confinement can contribute to excess acid build up and ulcer formation. A primarily grain based diet also increases the acid content of the gut and does not promote sufficient saliva production.

What are the clinical signs of stomach ulcers?

Horses that suffer from stomach ulcers often show one or more of these clinical signs:

  • Mild recurrent colic
  • Weight loss
  • Poor working attitude and performance
  • Changes in eating behavior
  • Refusal at jumps
  • Pain upon saddling

How are stomach ulcers diagnosed?

The most difinitive method in which to diagnose stomach ulcers is through endoscopy. A small camera is inserted through the nose and down to the stomach. Horses need to be sedated for this procedure and few veterinarians can perform this procedure in the field. Horses that are started on the treatment for gastric (stomach) ulcers and get better, can be diagnosed by “response to treatment”.

How are gastric ulcers treated?

The most ideal therapy is oral dosage of omeprazole for the 30 days. This therapy can be a little costly, but is very effective. Alternative therapies, include over the counter remedies that may be less effective. Some of these include Aloe Vera juice, ranitadine tablets, and other countless OTC gastro aid products.

Should I really worry about ulcers?

Yes, you should!  Ulcers can be fatal if not treated. I have confirmed gastric ulcers in several horses on necrospy and have had horses to die of perforated ulcers that were left untreated.