What’s the best food for horses with ulcers? You may be surprised to learn that feeding a horse with ulcers is more a matter of common sense than anything else. What might surprise you even more, or maybe even shock you, is how many horses are estimated to have ulcers.
Once you know the odds of your horse having (or developing) ulcers, you can determine if you need to have your veterinarian confirm the condition. If your horse does have ulcers, this article will help you learn about them and understand how to feed your horse to help him regain his health.
What Are Ulcers?
EGUS or Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is associated with ulcers in horses. Ulcers are sores that develop in the stomach lining. The lesions are typically in the gastric, esophageal, or duodenal mucosa.
Horses that have ulcers constantly secrete gastric acids. It doesn’t matter if food is present in the stomach or not.
Types Of Ulcers
There are four kinds of ulcers that horses get:
1. Equine Squamous Gastric Ulcer Syndrome, these affect the upper third of the stomach
2. Equine Glandular Gastric Ulcer Syndrome, these affect the lower stomach
3. Hindgut Ulcers
4. Oral Ulcers
Does My Horse Have Ulcers?
Not all horses with ulcers show clinical signs. It’s estimated that 30% to 50% of all foals have ulcers, and in foals with clinical symptoms, more than 50% of them have ulcers.
In symptomatic horses more than 2 years old, 90% have ulcers. And roughly 50% of non-symptomatic adult horses have ulcers. At some point in their life, more than 90% of all horses will develop ulcers.
Many horses (60% – 90%) under heavy performance demands, like racing horses, competition horses, and endurance horses, develop ulcers.
⦁ Loss of appetite
⦁ Difficulty or refusal to eat and drink
⦁ Weight loss
⦁ Poor body condition
⦁ Abdominal discomfort when grooming or girthing
⦁ Attitude changes
⦁ Poor hair coat
⦁ Low performance
⦁ Reluctant to train
⦁ Mild Colic
⦁ Chronic diarrhea
Contributors To Ulcers
⦁ Diets heavy on grain. The majority should be roughage.
⦁ Frequent use of NSAIDS
⦁ Too much time in a stall
⦁ Too little fresh grass
⦁ Heavy performance demands
⦁ Frequent trailering
⦁ Stress in general
Diagnosis has to be done by a veterinarian. It’s necessary to perform a gastroscopy to determine the presence of ulcers and the severity of the lesions. The horse will need to fast for about 12 hours before the gastroscopy. Water should be withheld (in most cases) 4 hours before the procedure.
Riding A Horse With Ulcers
Is it okay to ride a horse with ulcers?
Probably. Unless your horse has been sick for a long time and is weak, it should be okay to ride him.
But, cut down on the intensity of your riding activities. When a horse is worked hard, stomach acids slosh around and can irritate lesions in the stomach lining. You want your horse to heal, so keep your riding to an easy level and don’t stress your horse.
Best Food For Horses with Ulcers Tip#1 – Prevent Ulcers
It’s better to prevent ulcers than to deal with them. Some steps for prevention are:
⦁ Feed a small (preferably alfalfa) portion of roughage a half hour before riding
⦁ Use slow feeder nets
⦁ Avoid using NSAIDS whenever possible
⦁ Reduce the use of grains (doesn’t apply to extruded, pelleted, or complete)
⦁ Horses need to eat 12 hours out of the day. This does not mean to give grain to your horse every hour for 12 hours. That could be fatal. Horses need grass at liberty and hay with small supplements of alfalfa. Note that too much alfalfa will make a horse very energetic if he’s not exercised enough to burn off the excess energy. This is due to the high amount of calories in alfalfa.
⦁ The best diet for ulcer prone horses is high in fiber and low in starch.
⦁ Focus on feeding small amounts often.
⦁ Keep a regular feeding schedule.
⦁ Introduce food changes gradually.
⦁ Prolong foraging time.
Best Food For Horses with Ulcers Tip#2 – Feeding Right
You don’t need to buy specialty feeds or add supplements to help your horse recover from ulcers.
You may simply need to change the way you feed your horse and make a few changes in the balances of the feeds to help your horse’s gut heal.
In nature, when undisturbed by human beings, everything works as it should. A horse doesn’t develop ulcers when he roams at liberty. Mustangs on the range don’t develop ulcers.
It’s when horses are stalled and fed large amounts of grain, maybe twice a day, add the stress of training or performing, and problems start cropping up.
Despite the lifestyle of a domesticated horse, you can keep your horse healthy by knowing how to feed him in the best manner.
Best Food For Horses with Ulcers Tip#3 – What To Feed Horses with Ulcers
⦁ Make sure to give enough water.
⦁ Add caloric energy with fats.
⦁ Alfalfa is a better acid buffer than other sources of roughage because of its protein and calcium content. (Don’t replace hay with alfalfa, supplement hay with alfalfa.)
⦁ Turnout on green grass.
⦁ Increase protein intake.
⦁ Protein rich sources
⦁ Spirulina: 52%
⦁ Soybean meal: 44-48%
⦁ Canola meal: 36-41%
⦁ Ground flax: 26%
⦁ If grain is fed, it should be in small, frequent amounts. Limit grain intake.
⦁ Hay and forage should be fed at 1 to 2% of horse’s body weight per day.
Best Food For Horses with Ulcers – My Conclusion
It isn’t that difficult to get your horse back on track and healing from ulcers. You don’t need to buy expensive supplements. You just need to know what feeds to provide for your horse and how much to give.
Many issues with ulcers are grain related when horses don’t have adequate turnout time on grass. Unfortunately, most horses will develop an issue with ulcers at some time in their life.
If you know what symptoms to look for, and how to feed your horse, the ulcers will heal in a few months. If your horse is healthy, but you aren’t feeding him in a way to prevent ulcers, gradually change the way you feed him.
Small frequent meals and adequate turnout on fresh grass are keys to getting and keeping your horse’s gut healthy. Was this post helpful? Want to learn more about horse health? I would encourage you to read my post “Horse Hoof Abscess Treatment”.