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What is the Best Food For Horses with Ulcers?

Best Food For Horses with Ulcers

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?

Best Food For Horses with 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?

Best Food For Horses with 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.

Ulcer Symptoms

⦁ 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

Diagnosing Ulcers

Best Food For Horses with Ulcers

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

Best Food For Horses with Ulcers

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

Best Food For 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.

Best Food For Horses with Ulcers

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”.


  • William says:

    Great article on ‘What is the Best Food For Horses With Ulcers’. Very well researched. Although I don’t have horses at the moment, I have kept many in previous years. Being a retired farrier, I have certainly seen and worked with horses in just about every condition that you can imagine.
    I really appreciate the detail you have provided here. The way you have described exactly what ulcers are and where they can be located. Also, of course the best feed for these animals, and perhaps most important of all, how to prevent your horses from getting ulcers in the first place. Well done and thank you.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi William. Thanks for your comment. Yes, like humans, it’s important to know what to put in your horse’s body. I’m glad my post is helpful. Please stop by again.

  • Julia says:

    Hi Shalisha, you would never think that horses would suffer from ulcers, but more like it’s only mankind who would get diagnosed with such things!
    Your article is very informative and very helpful, outlining symptoms to look for and how to help with what treatment to give, even if it is as simple as changing their diet
    You show clear information with complimentary images and all is very easy to follow.
    I have alot of respect for these beautiful animals and taking care of them in the right way is very important.
    I hope your article goes out to alot more people, who are unaware about this and in hand will educate them more in knowing how to treat their horses and in hand showing them great kindness and love, which I am sure in their own way, the horses would respect that from their owners.
    Also I found your article on hoof abscess treatment, an interesting read.
    Keep up the good work, it’s very important to get this kind of information out there, on things to look out for, tips and how to treat.
    When you think there are, show horses, racing horses, military horses, farm horses and more, a reminder even if some are aware, won’t go amiss!

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Julia. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my post. I agree with you. Oftentimes, horse owners don’t realize that horse suffer some of the same medical conditions as humans, and that a lot of horse ailments stem from diet (just like mankind). I’m really hoping that those who read my posts will become more educated. Please stop by again. I love your feedback and glad I can help.

  • Julius says:

    Thank you for this learning blog post. I know ulcers can be super annoying for any animal. For a horse who is built to be strong and perform, it must have been even more difficult to have such ulcers. I think you provided a detailed guide on what to eat and how to actually avoid the ulcers in the first place. Very well. Thank you and keep up your great work! Cheers

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Julius. I thank you for your feedback. I used to think because horses are such big powerful animals, they couldn’t suffer from ulcers. How wrong I was. I believe everything starts with diet. I’m so glad that I’m able to help you and others with this information. Please feel free to share it.

  • Angee says:

    I just think horses are majestic creatures and deserve all the love and care. Your article is so informative I have learned a few things about looking after horses. Thank you.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Angee. Thanks so much for your feedback. I’m glad I am able to provide my readers with helpful information. Come back again sometime.

  • Anastazja says:

    This is a very informative article.  Although I enjoy riding from time to time, I haven’t been around horses constantly since I was a teen.  I did not know that a horse could get an ulcer.  My daughter works with horses regularly.  I am sure she is aware of the problem, but may not know about the treatments you suggest in terms of food.  I am going to forward this article to her.  Thanks for the information.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Anastazja. Thanks for your comment.  Yes, horses get the same diseases as humans. I’m so glad my article was informative and helpful. 

  • Chastity says:

    Hi Shalisha,

    Very interesting article. I honestly know zero about horses. I am a city girl through and through. I had no idea horses get ulcers. I’ve only seen a horse once or twice up close. If I ever get to be around horses I’ll now know what to look out for and how to feed the horse properly. Thanks for sharing the information!

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Chastity. Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad my post is helpful to you. That’s my goal – to inform as many people as possible on how to take care of their horses.

  • Thabo says:

    Well this is a very interesting article. I had no idea that horses can have ulcers and that one needs to be cautious of the food they eat.
    This article may be helpful for my previous dance partner who is thinking of owning a horse.
    This was well writing and informative.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Thanks for your comment Thabo. I’m glad you found it helpful. That’s my goal with this site.

  • Kyle says:

    Hello, Shalisha,
    Thank you for writing this article. It’s incredibly detailed and informative. How much does it usually cost to have a veterinarian check and diagnose your horse in your experience? I’m interested in high-performance horses and researching the additional medical expenditures before committing. How frequently should your horse be examined for ulcers? I imagine it depends on the intensity of the activity, but given that ulcers can be asymptomatic, I want to ensure that it gets the best treatment possible.

    • Shalisha Alston says:

      Hi Kyle.  Thanks for your question. I don’t own a horse, but based on my research, and keep in mind, depending on which state you live, a regular vet visit might cost around $40 for your horse (or more).  If the visit is an emergency or requires on-call services, you might pay up to $150 for the appointment alone – not including the costs of diagnostics, testing, treatments, and follow-up.

      Equine ulcers: $400 for testing; $200-$300 
      Colic: $300-$600 for diagnostic testing and treatment
      Cushing’s disease: $150-$300 for diagnostic treatment
      Desmitis: $500-$2,000 for surgical repair

      As for how often should a horse be examined for ulcers?   The only way to accurately diagnose equine ulcers is through gastroscopy. This procedure allows your veterinarian to locate and examine lesions in the lower esophagus, stomach, or upper section of the small intestine.  It’s a costly procedure. You’d have to ask your vet on how often your horse should be checked for ulcers.  Every horse is different and it also depends on the horse’s overall health. 

      I hope I’ve answered your questions. 

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