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  • How to Spot Gastric Ulcers in your Horse

    Posted on by Abii Dowdy

    Has your horse’s behaviour changed? Are they sensitive around their girth area? Do they get stressed easily? If so, take a look at the tips below on how to spot if your horse could be suffering from Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome.

    What is Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome?

    Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) is where the lining of the horse’s stomach becomes ulcerated and painful. The horse’s stomach is a highly acidic environment which allows successful breakdown of their fibre focussed diet. This environment is managed by a thick layer of mucous in the bottom portion of the stomach (known as the glandular region) and pH buffering saliva in the top portion (the squamous region). If this balance is altered by reduced food intake or stress, then ulceration can occur.

    EGUS can affect any horse of any breed. However, some types are known to be more susceptible, such as racehorses and those who frequently travel to competitions. To successfully diagnose whether your horse is suffering from gastric ulcers your vet will perform a gastroscopy examination. This is where a camera is passed through the horse’s nostril, down the oesophagus and into the stomach to visualise the stomach lining. Your vet will then use a grading system to determine the severity of the ulcers and whether they are classed as Non-glandular (top 1/3 of the stomach, the squamous region) or Glandular (bottom 2/3 of stomach including the pylorus – the exit from the stomach to the digestive tract).

     

     

    An example of Grade 1 Glandular ulceration. The hole visible is the pylorus – where the stomach exits to the small intestine.

    Signs of EGUS

    Common clinical signs seen in horses suffering from Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome are as follows:

     

    • Poor performance
    • Behavioural changes during exercise, such as bucking, refusing to jump and back pain
    • Irritability, especially with grooming, girthing up and changing rugs
    • Loss of appetite
    • Mild to moderate signs of colic (abdominal pain)
    • Poor body condition
    • Chronic diarrhoea
    • Teeth grinding and crib-biting
    • Tucked up or a pot-bellied appearance

     

    Do keep in mind that not all horses will display obvious outward signs of suffering with EGUS, so monitor their behaviour closely and always introduce management changes gradually.

     

    Diagnosing and Treating Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

    A gastroscopy examination involves passing a 3m long, specially designed, flexible camera up the horse’s nostril, down the oesophagus and into the stomach which needs to be empty to successfully visualise the lining. Your horse will need to be starved of food for 16 hours prior to when the scoping procedure is due to start. They will also need drinking water removed 2 hours prior to the procedure. Due to the starvation times, many owners choose to drop their horse to their veterinary practice the night before if stabling is provided. Gastroscopy examinations should be done in a clinical environment with the horse restrained in stocks under heavy sedation. Your vet will grade the ulcers seen with Grade 0 (meaning there are no ulcers present) through to Grade 4 (where deep ulceration and extensive lesions are present).

             Depending on the ulcers found, the medical treatment recommended by your vet may differ slightly. If ulcers are found to be present in the squamous region (Non-Glandular Ulcers), your vet may suggest using an Omeprazole based product as this should stop acid secretion and is usually successful when used alongside diet and management change. This can include allowing your horse to have free access to forage. This course of treatment can be given as an oral paste or via injections into the muscle. If Glandular Ulcers are found then a course of Omeprazole may be used in conjunction with a mucosal protectant. In some cases antibiotics may be prescribed. These ulcers tend to take longer to heal. The treating vet may choose to repeat the scoping procedure once the course of medication has been completed to monitor how the ulcers are healing.

     

    If you think your horse may be suffering from Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome contact your vet for more information.

    An example of severe ulceration affecting the Non-glandular part of the stomach.