Did you know that one in five horses will develop an ulcer at some point in their lives? Ulcers are a serious problem for horses and can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. In this guide, we will discuss how to prevent ulcers in horses. We’ll go over the causes of ulcers, how to spot them, and how to treat them. So if you’re concerned about your horse’s health, make sure to read this guide!
What are ulcers and how do they form in horses?
Ulcers are open sores or lesions that form in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. They can occur in any part of the GI tract but are most common in the stomach and small intestine. Ulcers can be caused by a number of different things, including:
- Bacterial infections: Bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli can cause ulcers in horses.
- Viral infections: Viruses such as the equine herpes virus and the rotavirus can cause ulcers in horses.
- Parasites: Parasites such as the gastric acid-secreting worm can cause ulcers in horses.
- Stress: Stress is a major trigger for ulcers in horses. Anything that causes stress to your horse, such as exercise, changes in diet, or travel, can lead to ulcer formation.
- Certain medications: Some medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can increase the risk of ulcer development.
How do ulcers form in horses?
The horse’s stomach is constantly producing acid to help with digestion. This acid is kept in check by a thick layer of mucus that coats the stomach lining. When this mucus layer is disrupted, the acid can eat away at the stomach lining, causing an ulcer. Ulcers can also form in the small intestine, where they are known as enteroliths. Enteroliths are caused by a build-up of minerals and other materials in the intestine, which can form into hard masses. These masses can eventually erode through the intestinal wall, causing an ulcer.
How to prevent ulcers in horses – dietary changes, exercise, and management tips
There are a few things you can do to help prevent ulcers in your horse.
- First, you should consider making some changes to their diet. Adding more fiber to their diet can help create a buffer between the acid and the stomach lining. You should also make sure they have access to fresh water at all times, as dehydration can increase the risk of ulcer development.
- Second, you should focus on managing your horse’s exercise routine. Avoiding strenuous exercise and making sure they have plenty of time to rest will help reduce stress levels. If your horse is traveling frequently, make sure to schedule breaks so they can eat and drink.
- Finally, you should take some steps to manage your horse’s environment. Creating a calm and stress-free environment will help reduce the risk of ulcer development. You should also avoid using harsh chemicals or medications that could irritate the stomach lining.
By following these tips, you can help prevent ulcers in your horse. If you think your horse may have an ulcer, make sure to contact your veterinarian immediately. Ulcers can be very painful for horses and can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.
Treatment of ulcers in horses
If your horse does develop an ulcer, there are a few things you can do to treat it. First, you should contact your veterinarian. They will likely recommend a course of antibiotics to clear the infection and help heal the ulcer. You may also need to change your horse’s diet and exercise routine while they recover. Ulcers can take weeks or even months to heal, so it’s important to be patient and follow your veterinarian’s instructions.
Preventing ulcers in horses is the best way to keep your horse healthy and happy. By following the tips in this guide, you can help reduce the risk of ulcer development. If your horse does develop an ulcer, make sure to contact your veterinarian immediately. With proper treatment, your horse will make a full recovery.
How to naturally keep horses from getting ulcers
AVOID CONTINUAL FEEDING
When you feed your horse seldom, the time between meals is extended and the stomach is left empty. The likelihood of developing ulcers rises as a result.
Horses can graze for up to 18 hours a day in the wild. Since their stomachs are virtually never empty, ulcers cannot form.
It is crucial to feed your horse frequently during the day because of this.
The stomach’s protected glandular region is kept acid-free by the continual presence of food there. Additionally, it supplies saliva and nutrition to the squamous region to counteract the area’s acidic pH.
In fact, fasting is utilized as a model to create ulcers in research since intermittent feeding is such a significant risk factor for equine ulcers. In other words, ulcers will unavoidably form if your horse goes too long without food.
Quarter horses fed 20 meals throughout the day exhibited a lower occurrence of ulcers after 30 days when compared to horses fed two meals per day. 
Some horse owners worry about giving easy-keepers and overweight animals regular access to forages.
The use of slow-feed hay nets can assist your horse’s stomach to stay fuller for longer without consuming too many calories by extending the time spent feeding.
GIVE CONSTANT ACCESS TO WATER
In addition to other components of equine wellbeing, hydration is crucial for digestive health. Ulcer risk is increased by sporadic water consumption.
According to research, horses without regular access to water in their paddock are 2.5 times more likely to develop ulcers than those who do. This population also had more serious gastric ulcers.
Drinking water helps to reduce stomach acidity by thinning down gastric juices. Water consumption helps in gut motility, which is the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract.
It could be challenging to provide your horse water when in transit or when going to contests. Additionally, since freezing temperatures might occur in the winter, it may be more difficult to supply fresh water.
The other suggestions in this article that help reduce your horse’s chance of developing ulcers become particularly crucial when constant water access is not feasible.
Limit your intake of grains.
The digestive system can be impacted by food, which may also contribute to the emergence of horse ulcers.
For a number of reasons, high-grain diets raise the risk of ulcers. Grain requires little chewing, therefore little saliva is produced to neutralize the stomach acid when consumed.
Additionally, because grain passes through the stomach more quickly than forage, the stomach is empty for longer periods of time.
Typically, grain is included in equine diets as a source of energy. The horse absorbs and uses volatile fatty acids (VFAs) (acetate, propionate, and butyrate) produced by the fermentation of simple carbohydrates in the hindgut as energy.
The horse’s main source of energy is volatile fatty acids. Due of the dense energy they supply, high grain diets are frequently employed by horses used for racing or performance.
However, heavy starch intake raises VFA levels, which can lower pH and create an acidic environment.  When done frequently, this can result in hindgut acidosis, which increases the chance of developing hindgut ulcers.
Not just the hindgut participates in this process. Consuming a lot of grains can also result in the creation of VFA in the stomach, which lowers pH levels and raises the risk of ulcers.
Long-term high-grain diets may have further effects. High grain diets (>20% of the diet) can cause a 58 percent reduction in starch digestion in the small intestine.  As a result, the microbial environment in the hindgut will be impacted by increased starch.
High-grain diets frequently cause a change for the worse in the microbial populations of the hindgut, known as dysbiosis.  The gut’s lining may become inflamed as a result.
Additionally, dysbiosis can boost the absorption of bacterial compounds that cause inflammation, such as lipopolysaccharide (LPS).
One reason why high-grain diets can lead to systemic problems like laminitis and insulin resistance is the resulting immunological response.
To ensure a healthy digestive system and support the horse’s general metabolic health, high-grain diets should be avoided wherever possible.
It is advised to feed grains to your horse in several, modest meals rather than one or two large ones per day. This meal schedule will lessen starch excess in the intestines and reduce the formation of VFAs in the stomach.
FETCH A QUALITY HAY
For the digestive health and general wellbeing of your horse, it’s essential to provide high-quality hay.
Enough fiber, which has a prebiotic impact, will encourage microbial fermentation and intestinal health.
As hay typically contains less simple sugars than grain, less VFA is produced in the stomach.
It is important to take into account the type of hay because they all contain varying amounts of nutrients.
Horses who need an energy-dense diet can reduce their risk of ulcers by feeding them alfalfa hay. Because it contains more calcium and protein than other foods, it has a calming effect on the stomach. 
Compared to bromegrass hay, horses fed alfalfa hay had a good stomach pH and fewer gastric ulcers that were more severe.
Additionally a rich source of energy, alfalfa can replace grains and concentrates in the diet. For inactive horses, alfalfa may feed too nutrient-dense, which can lead to obesity and the emergence of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).
EVALUATE THE PROTEIN AND FATS IN YOUR HORSE’S DIET
The impact of starches and sugars on equine ulcers has been extensively researched. However, gut health can also be influenced by proteins and fats.
Alfalfa hay’s increased protein and calcium content help to reduce the number of volatile fatty acids that horses’ stomachs create after eating grain. 
Alfalfa hay can be given to sports horses that are generally fed grain to meet their energy requirements in order to give them more energy and support healthy stomach function.
Prior to exercise, horses should be given alfalfa hay, and it’s best to avoid working them out on an empty stomach. Alfalfa also creates a fibrous barrier that helps guard against acid splashing in the squamous region during exercise.
For performance horses, dietary fat should be taken into consideration as an alternative energy source. sources of fat such as camelina oil, flax oil, or Mad Barn’s w-3 To provide the horse with the energy it needs while lowering the danger of ulcers, oil can be used in place of grains.
To find out how alternative feed options can be used to support your horse’s unique needs, submit your horse’s diet for a complimentary consultation with one of our equine nutritionists.
GUT HEALTH NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
Natural nutritional supplements might be a useful method to improve your horse’s feeding routine and support digestive health.
There are numerous carefully considered options available. While some vitamins improve overall digestive health, others are helpful for preventing stomach or hindgut ulcers.
Optional dietary supplements to lower the risk of ulcers include:
- the prebiotics and the probiotics
- Bioavailable proteins
- Digestive enzymes Yeast Marshmallow Extract
- Devil’s Claw and Turmeric Herbal Blends
If you’re thinking about giving your horse a supplement, Mad Barn’s Visceral+ has been shown in studies to be effective in treating equine ulcers.
With components including milk thistle extract, meadowsweet, slippery elm, lecithin, magnesium, Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, and 20 billion CFUs of a 5-strain probiotic blend, Visceral+ is a secure and all-natural supplement.
Visceral+ offers total nutritional support for your horse’s digestive system, supporting immune system health and maintaining intestinal barrier integrity.
Visceral+ is different from other medications given to horses with ulcers in that it won’t stop the stomach’s normal production of acid. By replenishing the equine microbiome and stomach tissue, it functions in harmony with the horse’s natural biology.
Additionally, Visceral+ contains components that enhance immune function by lowering pathogen load, assisting in the fight against a significant ulcer-causing factor.
When treating ulcers, AVOID REBOUND.
The pharmacological component of GastroGard and UlcerGard, omeprazole, is a successful ulcer therapy. It raises gastric pH by preventing the stomach from producing acid.
This may hasten ulcer healing in the near future. The stomach will begin to manufacture acids once the procedure is finished.
Once a medication is stopped, this might lead to acid rebound and a recurrence of ulcers.
Equine vets are well aware that after therapy with acid inhibitors like omeprazole, the stomach reacts by producing excessive amounts of acids. Ulcer rebound may result from this very acidic environment.
This is not meant to discourage using omeprazole to treat ulcers. However, we do advocate using rebound prevention techniques.
Horses treated with omeprazole have been clinically studied for ulcer comeback using Mad Barn’s Visceral+.
In order to counteract the rebound effects of increased stomach acid production following omeprazole treatment, Visceral+ was developed in collaboration with veterinarians.
In a trial, horses with ulcers got therapy with GastroGard for 15–30 days, followed by additional 30 days of feeding Visceral+ along with GastroGard. Following therapy, all horses displayed complete ulcer healing with no rebound.
Reduce the use of NSAIDs.
Horses are given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) to treat various illnesses and lessen pain.
The NSAID phenylbutazone, also known as “bute,” is frequently used to treat pain in skeletal muscles. Firocoxib is more frequently used to lessen pain brought on by bone injuries or osteoarthritis.
Use of NSAIDs may occasionally be required. NSAIDs can be advantageous for your horse when prescribed and overseen by a veterinarian.
The usage of NSAIDs should be moderated outside of these situations.
Increased ulcers in horses’ digestive tracts have been directly linked to NSAID use. These ulcers develop in the stomach’s squamous and glandular regions as well as in the hindgut.
NSAIDs lower mucous production by preventing the formation of prostaglandins. Additionally, they might cause gastric pH levels to go below the standard pH of 2.
Phenylbutazone administration has a detrimental effect on the gastrointestinal tract’s mucosal barrier in healthy adult horses. This worsened overall digestive health and raised the rate of ulcers.
NSAID administration may be advantageous when done under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. Aim to administer a small dose in the least period of time. Avoid giving NSAIDs to your horse whenever you can.
LOWER YOUR HORSE’S LEVEL OF STRESS
Both humans and horses are susceptible to the development of ulcers due to stress.
Why? Cortisol and other thyroid hormones are produced in greater amounts in response to stress. A brief increase in cortisol is not harmful to health and may even be advantageous.
But persistent stress results in persistently high cortisol levels, which can lower prostaglandin levels.
In the gut, prostaglandins have a role in the generation of mucus.
High cortisol levels in rats were not directly linked to ulcers. Ulcers, however, were the result of low prostaglandin levels and excessive cortisol levels.
There is strong evidence that stresses including strenuous exercise, long-distance travel, and environmental changes are linked to an increased prevalence of ulcers in horses.
Your horse’s specific needs and daily routine will determine how to manage their stress levels. The first stage is to spot your horse’s stress indicators.
To determine the degree of stress, a veterinarian can evaluate the amounts of cortisol in the blood, saliva, and changes in heart rate. This isn’t always possible, though.
Instead, watch for physiological and behavioral indications of stress, such as:
- gnawing, biting, and cribbing
- Kicking the wall or stall walking
- extreme yawning
- pawing, bucking, bolting, or rearing
- trembling and/or a fast heart rate
- Having diarrhea and peeing a lot
Long-term stress can also cause a person to lose weight, have digestive problems, have bad coat health, and have a weak immune system.
Once you’ve established whether your horse is under any stress, you may start to identify the specific stressor.
Typical stressors for horses include:
- Stall seclusion
- recurring sessions of intense exercise
- Unbalanced diet, such as giving animals hay of inferior quality
- Lack of a schedule and/or feeding schedule
- inadequate socialization
- fresh surroundings
DO NOT OVEREXERCISE YOUR HORSE
In horses, ulcer formation is significantly correlated with excessive exercise.
According to observational research, race-trained horses have a higher prevalence of stomach ulcers than non-trained horses.
High incidences of ulceration were observed in horses that exercised vigorously six times per week.
Comparing racehorses that exercised one to four times per week to those that exercised five to seven days per week, a substantial rise in ulcer development was seen.
Why does exercising pose a serious risk of developing ulcers? There are numerous potential causes.
Gastric motility or the way food moves through the digestive system, is altered by exercise.
Exercise causes the stomach to become compressed and increases intra-abdominal pressure. This indicates that the stomach’s squamous region, which is unprotected by mucous, is more easily exposed to stomach acids. 
Additionally, when you work out, your stomach produces more hydrochloric acid.  These elements foster the perfect habitat for ulcers.
The digestion of nutrients is also negatively impacted by exercise, albeit this should be further investigated.
Horses are known to be stressed out by travel. Equine ulcer risk is considerably increased by transportation.
It is challenging to identify the volume of travel as a risk factor, though. Traveling horses frequently take part in competitions or shows. Which activity has a higher risk is unclear.
Horse transportation exposes them to new social contexts and groups, which can be stressful.
Horses often consume less water and food while being transported. These two things are ulcer development risk factors.
STAY AWAY FROM CONFINEMENT
Avoiding prolonged stall confinement for your horse is the final method to lower the danger of ulcers.
Horses kept in stalls consume less hay even when it is offered to them at their discretion. This lengthens the time between meals and reduces the amount of food that passes through their digestive system.
For similar reasons, stall confinement can affect a person’s water consumption.
Now that you know all about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of ulcers in horses, it is important to take action. Implement the tips we’ve shared today and work with your veterinarian to keep your horse healthy and ulcer-free. Have you ever dealt with an equine ulcer before? Let us know how you coped in the comments below.