EGUS or Gastric Ulcers in Horses:
EGUS or Equine gastric ulcers
syndrome affects many horses. While it is most often associated with performance horses with stressful lives on the competition circuit, it is possible for the backyard horse to suffer from ulcers as well. Ulcers can form for a variety of reasons, and while its common to associate ulcers with stress, that is not always the reason. I have seen horses with ulcers that never left the property, so there is more to ulcers than just anxiety. In fact, statistically, it is more likely that your horse has ulcers than not. A surprisingly high number of horses have ulcers; so many in fact that it has led one veterinarian
I spoke to speculate that ulcers may be normal. The consensus of most veterinarians however, is that ulcers are not a normal aspect of the equine digestive system
, and can have very serious health risks.
Ulcers, EGUS, Equine Gastric Ulcer Symptoms, Gastric Ulcers, Stomach Ulcers
There are a variety of reasons gastric ulcers form in a horses digestive system. While a bacteria has been found to be the cause of ulcers in humans
, it is not quite as clear if there is a connection between bacteria and ulcers in horses. What we do know, is that horse's have a small stomach and long digestive system adapted to process small amounts of food over a long time. If for any reason the stomach is empty for a long period of time, the natural acids that help digest the foods builds up.
We only produce gastric fluids when we eat, but horses produce these food digesting fluids all the time. In an empty stomach, these fluids can erode the mucous lining that protects the stomach lining. So feeding once or twice a day or any situation that can leave a horse's stomach empty for a long period of time but for the erosive gastric fluids can cause ulcers.
Foods high in sugar and simple starches may also be a partial factor. The sugars can turn into substances that actually exacerbate any attack on the mucous lining of the stomach. The saliva produced by chewing buffers stomach acids, but the horse does not need to chew concentrates as thoroughly as grass or hay. This means they do not produce as much protective saliva. Even hay feeders placed above ground level may have some affect on how a horse chews, and may play a small role in the formation of ulcers.
NSAIDs, often given to horses with diseases like arthritis, can cause ulcers in the colon. NSAIDs prevent the hind gut from producing protective mucous, leaving the lining exposed to gastric fluids. Saddle fit may even be a factor as spinal compression may lead to colonic ulcers. Other factors include:
- Intense exercise (for example race horses in training)
- Intense competition schedules
- Sudden changes in routine or environment
Considering all the factors that can contribute to ulcers, it is almost inevitable that most horses will have some degree of EGUS. If your horse is not in top condition and good health
, despite your diligent feeding and care program and you have de-wormed
, had teeth checked and are providing a stress free environment, you may suspect ulcers. Unfortunately the only sure way to find out if ulcers are the problem is to have your horse scoped by a veterinarian.
Once your vet diagnoses ulcers your horse may be put on one or more drugs. Antacids
may be administered several times a day. Pain killers may lessen the horses discomfort. Proton Pump Inhibitors
(PPI) inhibits stomach acid production and histamine blockers
help lower acid production. Your vet is the best resource for advice on the best medications for your horse. Sucralfate
protects the abdominal lining from the acids.
Some horse owners may wish to try natural remedies such as papaya, mint, aloe vera and other natural, herbal preparations and combinations including Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture. These may be tried in addition to medications. Talk to your veterinarian before adding anything to the mix however.
Good basic horse care that includes lots of good quality hay
or grass, lots of turn-out time with pasture buddies, and concentrates
in small amounts will go a long way in preventing ulcers. If environmental stress like horse shows and trailering can not be avoided, preventative medicine may be administered. Talk to your veterinarian about the best strategy for your situation.