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The digestive tract of horses is designed to allow for the ingestion of large quantities of forage in a continuous approach. The upper part of the digestive tract is not very large nor is it intended to handle large single meals so common in the life of a stabled horse. Large single meals of grain can potentially overwhelm the equine's stomach and small intestine digestive capacity, causing rapid fermentation of grain carbohydrates. This can result in a wide range of health problems, most notably ulcers.
Gastric ulcers in horses are serious business and more common than you may believe. They are believed to affect up to 90% of racehorses and 60% of show horses. Horses confined to stalls for extended periods of time can potentially lead to the development of gastric ulcers. Some other factors contributing to the development of ulcers include:
- High carbohydrate diets
- Being fed twice a day rather than being allowed to graze
- Physical activity
Gastric ulcers cause pain and poor performance in horses; they can also be fatal when left untreated. Stomach acids erode through the stomach or colon, causing bleeding and peritonitis. Recognizing the signs of ulcers and getting your horse the proper treatment is of the utmost importance. Treatment is commonly built around removing predisposing factors that lead to ulcers.
Here are a few ideas for how to help your horse avoid or limit the extent of ulcers:
- Turning out your horse for grazing as much as possible. This is probably the easiest and most successful ways to help your horse with its ulcer problem. You can still feed your horse grains but it is recommended you follow a carefully prescribed feeding regimen that includes a healthy amount of roughage.
- If you own or care for a horse that travels a lot such as competing in numerous events or it simply lives in a stressful environment, some veterinarians advise medical intervention as way to help your horse from developing gastric ulcers.
- Besides medications, supplements, like CORTA-FLX® U-GARD™ Pellets, and Uckele G.U.T. ™ can help in the prevention and treatment of gastic ulcers. Some veterinarians also recommend giving probiotics as a way to assist digestion. Probiotics and horse supplements can be beneficial if your horse already has a history of digestive problems.
The ulcer treatment program you implement is all dependent on the personality of your horse. Some handle changes well, while others don’t; they react with varying levels of anxiety and discomfort. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy method for determining a horse’s stress levels and whether or not that stress is causing digestive problems. The best thing for you to remember is prevention of ulcers is key.
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