On the plane from Wellington a few weeks ago, I read an article on Ulcers in horses in the Sport Horse International Issue 5 from 2013! It had some amazing statistics and advice I would love to share with you.
First, top athletic horses have an extremely high rate of incidents for ulcers. In some case studies as high as up to 98%. Yet in a clinical study of broodmares exhibiting no “clinical signs” of ulcers the rate was 71%! This means to me that our horses may not look like they have ulcers and they do. This means to me that while types of activity increases the incidents of ulcers even pastured broodmares have high rates. Imagine an incident rate of 71% ulcers in humans!
Interestingly, in one study pleasure horses exhibiting what appeared to be ‘signs’ of ulcers had only 53% of the horses actually with ulcers. This means to me that we don’t necessarily diagnosis the symptoms properly!
The article went on to state that the things that increase the chances for ulcers in our horses are increased amounts of exercise and increased intensity of exercise, the number of hours spent in the stall and the number of hours spent in the pasture. While the first ones increase the chance of ulcers the last decreases it. This is because horses are meant to be constant grazers. Their constant saliva production decreases acid levels. The article stated that “In fact, the most reliable way to INDUCE ulcers for research purposes was to take away all feed for a set period of time.” This was why the author suggested that increasing the number of feeding times from two to three daily can decreases the chance for ulcers. Obviously, you don’t feed more just more often. The statistics the article listed was that it clinically decreased the chance of ulcers from over 70% to 57%!
They also indicated that the use of Bute or Banamine actually increases the chance for ulcers. They then went on a long discussion about Gastroguard versus other types of ulcer medications. They noted that at the time of the article last summer Gastroguard was the only FDA approved and clinically proven effective treatment. The active ingredient is a protein pump inhibitor called Omeprazole. Ok that is a really big word I don’t much understand, however the article argued that the rest of the products are made outside the FDA so they may not have the same percentage of active ingredient (even if it is included) so the effectiveness may be less. This means to me either pay for Gastroguard or check with your vet about the effectiveness and percentage of active ingredient in alternatives!
Finally, they gave other suggestions to decrease the risk of ulcers. First, alternate the intensity of workouts and exercise. Second, increase turnout. Third, as mentioned above break up feeding into many smaller portions for grain. Ideal they argued is every 6 hours. Finally, if your horse whips through their hay, try hay nets with really small holes to make them work more for the hay and to take longer to eat it!
Hope this helps. If you want more information see the original article in SHI Issue number 5 2013!