How can you tell if you horse has ulcers?
Ultimately, only your Veterinarian can determine this definitely by scoping your horse with a camera, a process called gastroscopy. But before you get to this point, you should know a few things about ulcers and how to spot them (this is the hard part!)
Depending on what study you read, you will find that anywhere from 50-90% of horses have gastric ulcers (the kind in the stomach). The studies vary because some only look at racehorses, some look at show horses, some look at pleasure or backyard horses. At any rate, ulcers can happen in any horse regardless of his job or age.
Stall kept horses are sometimes more stressed than field kept horses.
Gastric ulcers happen because the horse is always producing stomach acid! All the dang time! Because, horses are designed to be eating all the dang time. Most horses don’t have this type of lifestyle, even if they are fed six feedings a day.
Add to that training and exercises, grain diets, life in a stall, the use of some medications, and hauling around to clinics and shows and you could end up with a horse that has ulcers. With the stomach producing acid all of the time, there’s a lot of splashing around of acid without the benefit of a food and saliva buffer. This is one reason that it’s a good idea to let your horse eat hay before exercise! The hay will create a layer of protection between the lower part of the stomach that collects all of the acid, and the upper part which is virtually unprotected from the acid bath. The hay creates an actual physical barrier!
Daily ulcer medications - AKA liquid gold!
What are some signs of ulcers in horses? Unfortunately, they are rather vague, and often mimic or overlap with other conditions, such as a worm infestation or other digestive issues. But - knowing what to spot is the first step! Keep in mind that some horses show no outward signs at all!
- ”Blah” attitude and feeling
- A change of attitude
- Decreased performance
- Training issues
- Poor coat
- Weight loss
- Low grade colic
- Sensitivity to the girth and/or grooming in the girth area
- Teeth grinding
- Picky appetite
- Reluctance to drink and/or finish meals
Hay nets help keep your horse's belly full of hay - which can help with ulcers.
What can you and your Veterinarian do? The first thing to do is have a conversation about other things that could be similar, and then it’s time to start ruling stuff out. Going the way of gastroscopy could be expensive, and include a trip to your local horse clinic. You may also be able to do a trial with some ulcer medications to see if there is a change in your horse, in which case you can re-evaluate and decide to continue treatment or look for other issues.
What has your experience with ulcers been like?