Is Your Horse Not Quite Himself?

by Amelia Hutchinson MRCVS
Published: Last Updated on

With another unusually dry spring after a wet and muddy winter, grass growth has been well and truly stilted. Most horse owner’s (myself included) rely on the flush of spring grass to help bring back some condition into our animals without having to feed as much extra.

The lack of grass growth means there is less forage available for our equine friends, the very thing they rely on for good gut health. Less forage in our horses’ diet is a big risk factor for gastric ulcers.

Gastric ulceration (i.e., stomach ulcers) can form in horses for many reasons, most commonly a decrease in forage feed (in favour of high energy concentrates) or stress. It doesn’t take rocket science to work out that after a winter locked up with a relatively “un-stressful” life, our competitive partners will now be experiencing more stress going back out and about, hacking, competing, etc. Thus combining the increased stress and lack of grazing available—a perfect combination for the development of gastric ulcers.

Gastric ulcers are relatively common, they can be found in an estimated 60% of our leisure horse populations and up to 90% of racehorses. However, ulcers have detrimental effects on their health. Symptoms of ulcers include a poor coat, change in attitude, lacking “going forward”, reactive to the saddle/girth and even lead to episodes of colic (abdominal pain).

There is hope: ulcers can be diagnosed and treated. Diagnosis involves having a camera put into the horses’ empty stomach (gastroscopy). Treatment is normally a 4-week course with one or multiple drugs depending on location and severity of ulcers. Changes in management also helps to reduce the risk of ulcer development. These include increasing forage available, feeding chaff 30mins before ridden work and reducing stress factors.

If you noticed going back out and about your equine friend isn’t quite themselves, not performing as they should be or isn’t gaining condition, then gastric ulcers should be on your radar. At Station House Vets we are able to offer gastroscopy at the clinic; keep a look out for our offer too!

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