The unfortunate reality is that Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS), commonly known as gastric ulcers in horses, is a major concern for horse owners and riders. These ulcers form in a horse’s stomach and can significantly impact their health and performance.
With a rise in awareness about equine gastric ulcers, it’s important to understand their types, symptoms, and the best ulcer supplements available. This guide takes a look at EGUS, offering insights and advice on managing and preventing this condition.
Diagnosing Equine Gastric Ulcers
Diagnosing equine gastric ulcers, or EGUS, is an important step in ensuring the health and well-being of horses. Although there’s a fair bit of interest in other diagnostic methods, like the blood sucrose test, the most reliable method is still gastroscopy. This procedure involves a vet passing an endoscope into the horse’s stomach to visually inspect for ulcers.
If ulcers are detected, then you have to remember that each case is unique. Although general information can be a good guideline, specific veterinary advice is usually best. In some cases, horses suspected of having ulcers might be treated with medications or ulcer supplements without a proper diagnosis.
If there’s a significant improvement after treatment, that’s a good indicator of the presence of ulcers. Other than that, always consult an equine vet for a comprehensive diagnosis and tailored treatment plan.
Types of equine gastric ulcers
Equine gastric ulcers can be categorised into two main types based on their location within the horse’s stomach:
- Equine Squamous Gastric Disease (ESGD) – The first type is Equine Squamous Gastric Disease (ESGD) or squamous ulcers. These affect the upper, non-glandular area of the stomach. Squamous ulcers form in this area, as it’s more susceptible due to its limited protection against stomach acid.
- Equine Glandular Gastric Disease (EGGD) – The second type is Equine Glandular Gastric Disease (EGGD), also known as glandular ulcers. These impact the lower, glandular region. This section has a natural defence against gastric acid, but when compromised, ulcers can form.
Both types have their own set of causes and symptoms, which is why getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment. ESGD is often linked to factors like diet and feeding patterns, but EGGD’s exact causes are still under study. Understanding these types is essential for both horse owners and vets.
Symptoms of equine gastric ulcers
EGUS can show itself through wide a range of symptoms that might be subtle or easily mistaken for other health issues. Some common indicators include:
- A dull coat
- Loose stool
- Weight loss
- Intermittent colic episodes
- Sensitivity or biting when being girthed
Historically, ulcers were usually associated with underweight horses, but even well-conditioned, overweight, or performance horses can suffer from them. Interestingly, the severity of ulcers doesn’t always correlate with how bad the symptoms are.
Some horses might even have severe grade 4 ulcers without showing any external signs. Once again, don’t try and diagnose this yourself, consult a vet.
The 10 Best Ulcer Supplements For Horses
1. Best for Comprehensive Gastric Support – Synovium Gastrosafe
Synovium Gastrosafe is an award-winning supplement that’s designed to directly address the challenges of EGUS. The team behind it recognised how common gastric ulcers are, especially in performance horses, so they made Gastrosafe to focus on maintaining a balanced gut environment.
The horse’s digestive system, especially the hindgut, is sensitive to undigested sugars and imbalances. Gastrosafe aims to counteract the effects of intermittent feeding, high-grain diets, and the stresses of exercise on an empty stomach.
With gastric ulcers affecting a significant percentage of sports horses and racehorses, it’s crucial to choose a supplement that’s backed by scientific studies. Synovium Gastrosafe is the definition of a holistic approach to supporting and maintaining optimal gut health in horses.
2. Best for Minimising Ulcer Rebound – Merian UlcerGard
Merial UlcerGard is a result of meticulous research and dedication to equine health. Designed specifically for horses, this product actively suppresses stomach acid that can lead to painful ulcers.
Developed by experts in equine care, UlcerGard is not just a preventive measure but a proactive solution, aiming to address the root causes of ulcers and discomfort before they show up.
Its unique formulation complements other treatments, ensuring a well-rounded approach to equine stomach health. With Merial UlcerGard, you can be confident in providing your horses with a shield against ulcers, ensuring their well-being and optimal performance.
3. Best for Tissue Repair – L-Glutamine Powder
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid that’s important in tissue building and repair. The horse’s body generally produces enough, but during periods of rapid growth, healing, or stress, supplemental glutamine can be helpful.
It plays a crucial role in maintaining the gastrointestinal tract, especially the mucosa lining. Glutamine also helps with the production of other amino acids, making it essential for protein synthesis.
Although its ulcer-reducing benefits are well-documented in other species (including humans), few studies focus on horses. But, when combined with other anti-ulcer ingredients, I’ve seen that it can prevent severe ulcers, particularly squamous ulcers. Glutamine offers a promising avenue for supporting equine gastric health, but further research is needed before it’s an absolute go-to.
Pectin-Lecithin Complex is a unique blend that’s designed to fortify the protective lining of the horse’s stomach. Pectin, a soluble dietary fibre, forms a gel-like substance in the stomach, creating a protective barrier against stomach acid. Lecithin has phospholipids that enhance the stomach’s mucus production. This also shields the stomach lining from acid damage.
This combination is particularly effective against the harmful effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can make gastric ulceration worse. Pectin-Lecithin Complex is a more proactive approach to equine gastric health, offering a dual-action defence mechanism against the usual causes of ulcers.
Glycine is another non-essential amino acid that can play an important role in horse health. Apart from its function in protein synthesis, it’s known to help in the buffering of gastric acid, making it a valuable ally in the fight against horse ulcers.
When the stomach’s acid becomes too harsh, it can lead to ulcers forming. Glycine steps in to neutralise some of this acidity, promoting a more balanced stomach environment. Also, glycine’s anti-inflammatory properties can help soothe an irritated digestive tract.
6. Best for Improving Digestive Function – Yeast
Yeast, particularly Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a popular supplement in horse nutrition, as it’s known for its benefits in promoting a healthy digestive environment. It’s good at breaking down fibre in the hindgut, leading to enhanced nutrient absorption and reduction of volatile fatty acids.
Yeast can provide energy but also help in maintaining an optimal pH balance, reducing the risk of gastric ulcers. Also, yeast supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, further promoting a balanced digestive ecosystem. For horses prone to digestive problems or those on high-grain diets, yeast supplementation can be a real game-changer.
7.Best for Soothing Effects – Slippery Elm
Slippery Elm comes from the bark of the Ulmus rubra tree. It’s long been used for its mucilage content, which forms a slick gel when mixed with water. In equine care, it acts as a natural protective layer, coating the stomach and intestines. This barrier soothes irritation and reduces the inflammation associated with gastric ulcers and other digestive issues.
Slippery Elm is an ideal choice for horses with sensitive stomachs or those recovering from gastric ulceration. Although it’s a natural remedy, it’s essential to ensure it’s sourced responsibly and free from contaminants. The Natural Sources Slippery Elm supplement I linked to above is completely natural, organic and free from GMOs.
8. Best for Healing Properties – Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera is widely known for its healing and soothing properties, which is why it’s been a staple in natural medicine for centuries. In horse care, its gel is often used to ease the symptoms of gastric ulcers and support digestive health. Plus, because it’s rich in enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids, Aloe Vera does well at reducing inflammation.
While Aloe Vera offers a natural approach to managing equine gastric ulcers, it’s essential to use it in its pure form, free from additives or aloin, much like the other natural supplements I mentioned. As a complementary treatment, Aloe Vera can significantly improve a horse’s digestive well-being.
9. Best for Natural Mucosal Protection – Marshmallow Root Extract
Marshmallow Root Extract is celebrated for its gelatinous properties. When introduced to a horse’s digestive system, it forms a protective gelatinous layer, which, as I’ve mentioned before, shields the stomach lining from the harsh effects of stomach acid. This protective action is particularly beneficial for horses suffering from or at risk of gastric ulcers.
Additionally, its anti-inflammatory properties help soothe irritated or inflamed tissues, promoting healing and comfort.
10. Best for General Gastric Support – Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet is rich in salicylic acid – the natural precursor to modern aspirin – and offers strong anti-inflammatory benefits. For horses, this translates to reduced inflammation in the stomach lining, making it a valuable supplement for treating ulcers.
What I find really great about it is that it can help tighten and tone the digestive tract, which can further support gastric health. Meadowsweet also helps in neutralising excess acidity in the stomach, providing the balanced environment needed for healing. When considering natural remedies for equine gastric health, Meadowsweet stands out as a time-tested option.
The Types Of Medication For EGUS Equine Gastric Ulcers
- Acid-suppressing drugs: The most common medications for horse ulcers are ones that reduce acid secretion. Omeprazole is a popular choice and another option is ranitidine. While omeprazole is generally more effective, its long-term use might have drawbacks.
- Stomach-coating drugs: Sucralfate is a medication that binds to stomach ulcers, aiding in their healing. It’s usually more effective for glandular ulcers and is often combined with acid-suppressors.
- Antibiotics: Helicobacter pylori infections in humans are treated with antibiotics, but this bacterium isn’t a common cause of ulcers in horses. Antibiotics are reserved for non-healing ulcers in equines.
- Antacids: Agents like aluminium hydroxide offer short-term relief but aren’t standalone treatments.
- Emerging medications: New treatments, like Bethanechol and Octreotide, are being tested but aren’t widely used yet.
Managing Horses With Ulcers
Managing Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) requires a well-rounded approach that goes beyond just treating ulcers. For example, omeprazole is a common medication for gastric ulceration, but studies suggest it might not be the ideal treatment, as it can reduce calcium absorption, which is an effect that was first seen in humans.
Although the full implications are yet to be confirmed, there’s a recommendation to boost calcium intake for horses on this medication. Alfalfa, which is rich in calcium, is an excellent dietary addition. You absolutely have to watch horses under treatment, ensuring they receive essential nutrients and maintain optimal stomach health.
Horse Feeding Approaches Elevating Gastric Ulcer Risk
Sometimes, you can increase a horse’s risk of gastric ulceration without even knowing it. Here are some common feeding mistakes that could increase the risk of gastric ulceration.
- Low fibre diets: When horses chew high-fibre feeds they produce saliva, which contains bicarbonate. This bicarbonate neutralises acidity. A diet low in fibre reduces saliva production, leading to more acidic stomach contents.
- High cereal intake: Feeding 1% of a horse’s body weight in cereal grain can significantly increase ulcer risk. Cereals break down into strong acids and elevate stomach acid levels.
- Excessive starch: Giving a horse too much starch, either 2g for every kg of their weight daily or 1g per kg in a single meal, greatly increases the chance of ulcers.
Feeding Horses With Ulcers
- Forage focus: Increase chew time and saliva production by feeding ample forage. Low-calorie forages are ideal for good-doers (maintain condition well and put on weight easily).
- Frequent feeding: Offer small, regular meals to minimise stomach emptiness duration.
- Avoid cereals: Cereal-based concentrates increase ulcer risk. Go for digestible fibre sources like alfalfa with added oil.
- Alfalfa benefits: Alfalfa buffers stomach acidity effectively. This is because of its protein and calcium content.
- Pre-exercise feed: Before exercise, give your horse a handful of chopped fibre to prevent an empty stomach. This can reduce acid splash during movement.
How To Prevent Gastric Ulcers in Horses
Prevention is always better than cure. Use the following quick tips to prevent your horse from developing equine gastric ulcer syndrome:
- Frequent feeding: Offer regular, small meals.
- High-fibre diet: Promotes saliva production, buffering acidity.
- Limit stress: Reduce sudden changes in routine.
- Volatile fatty acids: Be wary, they can increase stomach lining damage.
- Regular vet checks: Early detection aids prevention.
Is soaked hay better for horses with ulcers?
Soaked hay can be beneficial for horses with gastric ulcers. Soaking reduces the hay’s starch content, which aligns with recommended feeding strategies for ulcer-prone horses. Also, wet hay is generally easier to digest, which could promote a healthier digestive system. But, always ensure the soaking duration is just about enough to prevent nutrient loss and consult a horse vet for tailored advice.
Does oil actually prevent gastric ulcers in horses?
Not necessarily. Oil, especially corn oil, may be able to help in reducing stomach acidity, which is a key factor in gastric ulcer formation. If introduced gradually, oils could provide a calorie-dense, low-starch energy source, supporting a horse’s digestive system. But, this is just an estimation and there isn’t any conclusive evidence to say that this will work.
Your best bet may be combining oils with other preventive measures.
What is Equine Glandular Gastric Disease (EGGD)?
Equine Glandular Gastric Disease (EGGD) is a type of gastric ulcer that affects the glandular part of the horse’s stomach. Unlike squamous ulcers, EGGD forms when the stomach lining’s natural defence against gastric acid has been broken down. Experts aren’t sure about the exact cause of this condition.
Can I treat and manage equine ulcers with supplements?
Yes, ulcer supplements can play a key role in managing horse ulcers. These supplements often have ingredients like magnesium hydroxide, which supports stomach health and reduces stomach acidity. Although supplements like magnesium hydroxide can help with prevention and management, they should complement, not replace, medical treatment and dietary changes.
How long does it take for gastric ulcers to heal in horses?
The healing time for gastric ulcers in horses varies based on severity and treatment. With proper medical treatment, many ulcers improve within about 4 weeks of treatment. But, complete healing might take 1 to 2 months.