Our horse’s behavior will normally warn us that there is something wrong if we simply stay attentive to subtle signs. Symptoms such as a hearty eater becoming irritable and agitated during dinner, eating less, slower or possibly not at all, or even pinning their ears during feeding time, could alert us that the horse is experiencing problems.
While these signs do not always mean that your horse has a stomach ulcer, it is estimated that 65% of horses experience stomach ulcers; therefore the possibility is high. More significantly, some figures state that 90% of racehorses and 60% of show horses suffer from moderate to severe ulcers.
As our horses cannot tell us that they are in pain, paying particular attention to their behaviors and when they occur is always vital in figuring out what could be wrong. Besides watching her feeding habits, watch for other signs. For instance, if your horse usually saddles easily, but now complains when you tighten her girth, you may want to consider the possibility of a stomach ulcer.
More Signs of Equine Stomach Ulcers
Grinding of teeth, belching noises, refusing foods that were eaten with no problems before, poor performance, irritability, and sensitivity to touch are all signs that a horse is experiencing the pain of a stomach ulcer. Also, if you notice your horse’s coat is not as full and shiny as it used to be or your horse is losing weight, your horse may need a visit from the veterinarian so that a sucrose-absorption test can be performed or the stomach can be observed with an endoscope to definitively determine whether he has an ulcer or not.
Horse Stomach Ulcer Risks
Researchers and horse owners have developed a list of risk factors that could lead to equine stomach ulcers. These include:
- Sporadic feeding, as opposed to having consistent access to food
- Exercise at rapid speeds (fast exercise increases pressure in the abdomen; therefore moving acid to regions of the stomach that are less protected)
- Confinement in the stall (1/2 of foals and 1/3 of adults that are confined develop ulcers)
- Fasting for long periods (not eating during a long trip or too much time between the evening feed and the morning feed)
- Eating processed foods (horses should eat whole grains)
- Gastrointestinal tract problems
- Giving the horse corticosteroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Holistic Treatment Options for Equine Ulcers
Because the stomach needs acid to break down food properly, the solution is not to completely eradicate stomach acid. Rather, the treatment should include healing and management of the current ulcer and then preventing future ulcers. From one case study of a 10 year old Arabian that was rescued from abuse, confinement and malnutrition, here is the treatment plan:
For Healing: Aloe Vera juice, Slippery Elm, Licorice, dried cabbage, raw pumpkin seeds, and papaya were added to the regular hay, rice bran, beet pulp and flax seed diet. A two week feeding regimen was established with these ingredients to ensure that the ulcer was healed.
For Management: Vital aspects of ulcer management included stress reduction, and keeping the gut full and moving with feed. (Slow feeders and turnout feeders are recommended to help with feeding.) As the healing and management proceeded, the Arabian began to gain weight and eat regularly, and his attitude improved; he became more comfortable in his new environment, and showed overall improvement.
For Prevention: The prevention technique included continuing with mixing pasture feeding with a slow feeder and providing him with probiotics and enzymes from the papaya and other natural ingredients that were used in the healing process.
In other cases, other horse-friendly digestible fibers that exhibit intestinal benefits like regulating bacteria, bioflavanoids, natural anti-inflammatories, amino acid L-Glutamine (known to heal the stomach lining), and digestive enzymes have been combined and added to the horse’s feed to help heal the ulcer. However, the Aloe Vera has been boasted to have anti-ulcerative effects alone. By adding ¼ cup of the juice to the feed twice daily for horses with ulcers, it will aid in repairing the stomach lining and healing the ulcers.
The Slippery Elm has anti-inflammatory properties, which help to reduce any of the irritation that your horse is experiencing in his stomach. It also is known for its ability to lightly cleanse the digestive tract. In combination with the Aloe Vera and regular feedings, these holistic remedies can help to repair your horse’s stomach issues.