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Equine ulcers – treatment and symptoms of ulcer disease

Published: 2022-10-06 10:47:04 Categories: Guides Rss feed , Horse health Rss feed


Stomach ulcers in horses – what are they and how to deal with them?

Stomach ulcers are very common in race, sport, and recreational horses. We colloquially call them stomach ulcers, however, we are really dealing with EGUS – Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome.

Ulcers of the stomach appear in almost 90% of race horses, but only a few people and riders know that sport (about 80%) and recreational (about 60%) horses are also at a high risk of falling ill.

Gastric ulcers are painful sores on the stomach’s wall and mucosa. Those sores can be both in the glandular and non-glandular parts of the stomach.

How to deal with them?

Causes of ulcer disease

Ulcers may be caused by human activities, but do not have to. After getting to know the causes of ulcer syndrome, you may minimize the risk of it by eliminating perpetuating factors.

  • stress (both the stress caused by competition trips and transport but also the stress from changing environment/seasons or stemming from incorrect training),

  • improper diet (diet lacking fiber, too little proper feed, too much sugar in food, too big portions eaten in a short time),

  • limited access to fresh water,

  • some drugs (usually antiinflammatory drugs, phenylbutazone),

  • being closed in a stall,

  • teeth grinding,

  • too long pauses between meals,

  • injury and the accompanying pain,

  • high-risk group (genetic factors).

Horses usually feel stress during incorrect training, when they are young, and when they cannot physically and/or mentally meet the expectations and tasks. Additionally, stress and anxiety occur during feeding, e.g. when it’s too slow (some horses in the stable already eat, and the rest are waiting) or irregular (it is crucial to keep consistent feeding hours). Large portions constrain the production of saliva, which is very important for the state of the horse’s digestive tract.

Horses often fall ill with Equine Gastric Ulcers Syndrome when they don’t have constant access to proper feed and fresh water. Administering hay in small portions to your horse may result in a few-hours pause in between the food intake. Long pauses between meals cause gastric acid to irritate the delicate walls of your horse’s stomach.

Closing the horse in a stall, continuous pain and boredom may also stress your horse and cause anxiety, which will propel the excessive production of hydrochloric acid. Frustration may also translate into your horse’s health and make him vulnerable to Equine Gastric Ulcers Syndrome.

Symptoms of equine stomach ulcers

While being attentive and observant, you may quickly notice the symptoms of the horse’s stomach ache. However, you should keep in mind that in the early stages of the disease, pain and other symptoms may be imperceptible, which is why it is so crucial to get your horse regularly checked and tested, especially if you know that your horse is exposed to one or some of the factors listed in this article.

  • No appetite, not finishing meals,

  • painful recurring colic,

  • unwillingness to ride ahead and work, lack of energy,

  • bad shape of hairs, matt coat,

  • frequent recurring diarrheas,

  • biting on the girth while pulling up,

  • nervousness while touching/cleaning the horse around the belly,

  • apathy,

  • weight loss,

  • problems with urinating,

  • Flehmen reaction (frequent rolling of the upper lip as a pain symptom),

  • swallowing,

  • changes in the amount of drunk water (may be more or less than usual),

  • lying down often,

  • teeth grinding.

After you notice any worrying symptoms, you must contact a veterinarian!


Necessary tests and diagnosing ulcer disease

The ulcer disease can be confirmed or ruled out only during a gastroscopic check. Gastroscopy is done with anesthesia, it is safe and completely painless for the horse. The test itself lasts about 20-30 minutes, however, preparing your horse for it may take up to 24 hours.

You need to do a few things to be able to fully check your horse and receive the full picture of your horse’s health state.

  • About 20-24 hours before the test, your horse should not eat anything, ask your vet about the particular fasting period,

  • about 5-6 hours before the procedure, do not let your horse anywhere near water, it is best to close the water feeder in the stall,

  • for the fasting period, you should keep the horse in a muzzle so that he cannot eat anything from the outside. Sometimes it happens that hungry horses eat their own feces.

You must provide your horse with an empty stall, with no litter or hay, and close the water feeder a couple of hours before the procedure. Do not let the horse out on a pasture, best to inform everyone not to give the horse snacks or feed.

It is good to schedule a gastroscopy before noon so that the longest fasting period comes at night when your horse is used to resting and sleeping.

Treatment of equine stomach ulcers

When you receive a diagnosis confirming equine ulcer syndrome, you should implement pharmacological treatment as soon as possible.

You should stick to the dosage prescribed by your veterinarian.

What does the treatment of ulcers really entail?

The horse’s diet should be very fibery to neutralize the effects of stomach acid on the stomach’s wall. The drugs should minimize the production of acid so that the stomach walls can regenerate.

With the stomach situation calming down, the pain symptoms and inflammation of the stomach walls should slowly subside.

One of the most important active substances is omeprazole, which you will find in the shape of pastes and packets. Without omeprazole, the treatment will not be successful. On the market, you will see a deficit of this drug, which causes it to be very expensive and the treatment lasts 3 to 6 weeks.

In the treatment with omeprazole, it is crucial to support the horse’s stomach mucosa with a special product designed for it.

Sucralfatum has a soothing effect on the stomach walls, and additionally, it protects them from the excessive reaction of gastric acid.

Your horse’s diet will also be crucial when it comes to fighting off ulcer disease. A proper diet combined with pharmacological treatment brings desired results, and if you stick to the vet’s rules and prescriptions, you may significantly shorten the treatment period.

It is worth mentioning that the “ulcer diet” may also be used with horses that don’t have stomach issues. Then, such a diet is prophylactics.

Diet of the horse with stomach ulcers

Proper feed and fiber components

The very basis of a good diet for horses with ulcers are fiber ingredients, which limit the effects of stomach acid.

The very fundament of your horse’s diet is proper feed!

You should pay special attention to the nature of your horse. For most of the day, they focus on food intake in small portions, which is why unlimited access to hay and other proper feed types is a must! Not only for horses with ulcers, but in diets of race, recreational, and sport horses.


While dealing with ulcer disease, it is good (in fact, you should) to give up the corny feed. Oats, barley, and other grains don’t consist of fiber structure but do consist of undesired starch, which causes the pH value in the stomach to drop while in excessive amounts.

Eliminating certain products from your horse’s diet, including grains, reduces the amount of energy delivered to your horse and you may substitute it with oils, which will energize your horse during treatment.

It is good to supplement the horse with ulcers with oils (e.g. linseed, or nigella), however, you should remember to introduce them gradually to your horse’s diet.

Linseed and mash

While preparing linseed, mucus is produced, which protects the mucosa. Good mash always contains linseed, which is desired in the horse’s diet so that stomach acid does not irritate the stomach walls.

Ulcers in the least severe stadium of the disease may be only small red spots, however, they may become very painful open wounds, which is why it is so important to use products that confine the acid effects.

Instead of mash, you may give your horse beet pulp and prepared linseed, however, all changes and suggestions must be consulted with a vet or dietician.

Small portions

To bring calmness to your horse’s digestive system, you should administer the prescribed feed portion in small doses.

Providing your horse with small portions of food will limit the excessive production of acid. You can give the horse more small meals in the day to provide the daily dosage of vitamins and minerals. A single portion should not be more than 1g/1kg of the horse’s body weight, which translates into a portion weighing 0,5-0,7kg depending on your horse’s size.


In prophylactics, just like in treatment, it is crucial to provide your horse with a fiber diet, which is why it’s good to give your horse 2-3 handfuls of chaff. The chaff will fill in the gastric contents so that the stomach acid will not flow over the stomach walls while riding.

It is worth resigning from grain feeds and providing your horse with one that will limit the production of hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid causes significant discomfort in horses that may be compared to heartburn.

It is good to make sure that the “ulcer horses” (e.g. after cured stomach ulcers and going off the drugs) have high-energy, low-starch, and low-sugar feed. You should consider changing grain to oils and adjusting the feed according to the dietician’s prescription.

Take care of your horse’s proper diet and supplementation. Check the catalog: Horse feed and supplements.

Equestrian store: +48 784 039 784


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