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Diagnosing Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Gastric ulcers in horses can have a variety of causes depending mainly on the area they are located. Today, our Ocala vets discuss equine gastric ulcer syndrome, the causes, symptoms and how they are diagnosed.

Gastrointestinal Conditions: Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

When ulcers are discovered on the stomach lining it is referred to as gastric or stomach ulcers. Horses can commonly experience ulcers and most will suffer from this condition at some point in their lives with a greater risk for athletic horses due to increased gastric acid production and decreased blood flow to the GI tract caused by excessive exercise.

Due to the small size of their stomachs, horses tend to prefer eating consistently throughout the day. For horses that naturally graze this also means that their body will produce a steady supply of gastric acid in order to help with digestion although the feed and saliva will dilute this acid. In situations where the horse is fed twice a day such as during boarding, this acid can instead be over-produced and affect other parts of the digestive system leading to gastric ulcers.

Causes of Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses

Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in horses is generally caused by an imbalance between mucosal aggressive and protective factors. Prolonged exposure to hydrochloric acid, pepsin, bile or organic acids may lead to ulcers in the esophagus. When a horse experiences ulcers in this area it can be compared to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Syndrome (GERDS) in humans. 

The length of time that the horse experiences acid exposure will determine the severity of this condition. Ulcers that occur in the glandular mucosa of horses are typically caused by a disruption of blood flow and decreased mucus and bicarbonate secretion.

If a horse has been fasting or gone through long periods without eating it will be more likely to experience gastric ulcer syndrome along with foals that nurse or feed infrequently.

Symptoms of Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Unfortunately, many horses that are experiencing the symptoms of gastric ulcer syndrome may not show the physical signs of the condition. However, if they do then some of the signs may include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Dullness
  • Attitude changes
  • Decreased performance
  • Reluctance to train
  • Poor body condition
  • Poor hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Low-grade colic
  • Girthiness

Clinical signs of ulcers in foals include intermittent colic (after suckling or eating), frequent recumbency, reduced nursing, diarrhea, poor appetite, a pot-bellied appearance, grinding of teeth, and excess salivation. Once these symptoms appear in foals the condition is already advanced and should be diagnosed and treated immediately.

Diagnosing Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Endoscopy or gastroscopy are the main two methods of diagnosing gastric ulcer syndrome in horses as well as being the most reliable options. These equine diagnostic imaging options are easy to perform, are minimally invasive, and allow for a complete evaluation of the horse's gastrointestinal tract. These equine diagnostics are crucial for the diagnosis of this condition to allow the next stage of diagnosing and treating this condition to begin.

Treating Gastric Ulcer Syndrome in Horses

If you have noticed If your horse has been showing the symptoms listed above then reach out to our equine vets in Ocala to ask about our diagnostic services. Once your horse has been diagnosed with gastric ulcer syndrome then our vets will be able to recommend the ideal treatment.

There are a variety of methods that have been used for the treatment and prevention of gastric ulcers in horses and foals. When it comes to medication, there is a paste that needs to be administered once daily for a duration of 28 days to treat gastric ulcer syndrome in horses. One of the added benefits of this medication is that it can be used for the prevention of the recurrence of gastric ulcers when administered at a half dose.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your horse or foal is showing uncomfortable signs of gastric ulcer syndrome please get in touch with Florida Equine Veterinary Associates. Our Ocala vets can perform imaging at our equine laboratory.

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