In this episode of Nutrition Nuggets titled “Understanding and Managing Gastric Ulcers in Horses,” Dr. Nettie Liebert, senior equine nutrition manager, discusses the topic of ulcers in horses. She begins by providing an overview of what ulcers are and explains that they can occur in various parts of the horse’s digestive system. Dr. Liebert emphasizes that ulcers can affect horses of all ages and breeds, including racehorses, performance horses, and foals. She goes on to discuss the diverse symptoms of ulcers, which can range from colic-like symptoms to changes in behavior and performance. Dr. Liebert provides valuable insights into managing ulcers, emphasizing the importance of consulting with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. She suggests various management techniques, such as providing free access to water and forage, minimizing stress, and keeping carbohydrates limited in the horse’s diet. While there are supplements available, Dr. Liebert notes that the FDA-approved drug omeprazole is the only known cure for ulcers. She concludes the episode by encouraging viewers to reach out with any questions and reminding them that finding the right approach may require some trial and error.

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Understanding Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Gastric ulcers are a common and often misunderstood condition in horses. A gastric ulcer is essentially a sore or lesion that forms in the lining of a horse’s stomach. These ulcers can occur in various locations within the stomach, each with its own unique causes and symptoms.

Definition of Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers in horses refer to sores or erosions that develop in the lining of the stomach. They can occur in different areas of the stomach and vary in severity. The most common type of ulcers in horses is known as Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS).

Various Locations of Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Gastric ulcers can occur in different regions of a horse’s stomach. They can develop where the esophagus meets the stomach, in the upper portion of the non-glandular stomach, in the lower glandular portion of the stomach, or at the junction between the stomach and the small intestine.

Typical Causes of Gastric Ulcers in Horses

The causes of gastric ulcers in horses can vary depending on the location of the ulcer. Stress, exercise, and certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are common factors that contribute to the development of ulcers in horses. Other factors, such as diet and management practices, can also play a role in ulcer formation.

Who is at Risk for Equine Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers can affect horses of any age and breed. However, certain factors increase the risk of developing ulcers in horses.

Risk Factors in Various Breeds of Horses

Racehorses are particularly susceptible to gastric ulcers, with over 90% of them experiencing ulcers at some point. Performance horses, regardless of their discipline, also have a high prevalence of ulcers. Even foals, especially around the time of weaning, can develop ulcers, with estimates ranging from 25% to 50%.

Risk Factors Associated with Age

Age can also be a risk factor for gastric ulcers in horses. Older horses may be more prone to ulcers due to changes in their digestive systems and increased exposure to stressors throughout their lives. Foals, on the other hand, may develop ulcers during the weaning process.

Impact of Stress and Exercise on Horses

Stress and exercise are significant contributors to the development of gastric ulcers in horses. Horses that experience high levels of stress, such as those in intense training or competition, are more likely to develop ulcers. Similarly, frequent and strenuous exercise can increase the risk of ulcer formation.

Symptoms of Gastric Ulcers in Horses

The symptoms of gastric ulcers in horses can vary greatly from one individual to another. These symptoms can be subtle or pronounced and may include changes in behavior, eating habits, and performance.

Variety of Possible Symptoms

Gastric ulcers can manifest in various ways in horses. Common symptoms include colic-like symptoms, such as getting up and down, pawing at the ground, or showing signs of discomfort. Changes in behavior, such as resenting the cinching of a girth or protesting during certain activities, can also indicate the presence of ulcers. Additionally, changes in performance, such as tension and reluctance to relax, can be signs of gastric ulcers.

Behaviors Indicative of Discomfort or Distress

Horses with gastric ulcers may exhibit behaviors indicative of discomfort or distress. These behaviors can include restlessness, irritability, or sensitivity when touched in certain areas. Horse owners should familiarize themselves with their horse’s typical behavior to recognize any deviations that may point to the presence of ulcers.

Changes in Eating Habits

Changes in eating habits can be another symptom of gastric ulcers in horses. Some horses may experience a loss of appetite or a decrease in feed consumption. Others may exhibit behavior such as eating more slowly or picking at their hay. Weight loss or poor body condition may also indicate underlying ulcers.

The Role of a Veterinarian

When a horse is suspected of having gastric ulcers, it is crucial to involve a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. A veterinarian can perform a thorough examination, including diagnostic tests, to confirm the presence of ulcers and rule out other potential causes of the horse’s symptoms.

Importance of Involving a Veterinarian for Diagnosis

Diagnosing gastric ulcers in horses requires professional expertise and specialized tools. A veterinarian can perform a gastroscopic examination, which involves inserting a small camera into the horse’s stomach to visualize any ulcers or abnormalities in the stomach lining. This method allows for an accurate diagnosis and assessment of the severity of the ulcers.

How a Vet Can Contribute in Treatment Courses

Once diagnosed, a veterinarian can guide horse owners in developing an appropriate treatment plan. Veterinarians may prescribe FDA-approved medications, such as omeprazole, to help manage and heal gastric ulcers. They can also provide recommendations for dietary modifications, stress management techniques, and other therapeutic interventions to support the horse’s recovery.

Traditional Management of Gastric Ulcers in Horses

In addition to veterinary treatment, there are several traditional management strategies that can help alleviate the symptoms and promote healing of gastric ulcers in horses.

Ensuring Free Water Access

Providing horses with free access to clean water is vital for their overall health, including the management of gastric ulcers. Adequate hydration helps maintain proper digestion and can help soothe the stomach lining.

Providing Plenty of Access to Forage

Horses should have access to a constant supply of forage, such as hay or pasture grazing. The act of chewing on forage stimulates saliva production, which acts as a natural buffer to gastric acid. Having something to chew on also helps alleviate boredom and reduce stress.

Use of Hay to Generate Saliva as a Buffer for Acids

Hay is particularly beneficial in generating saliva and providing a source of fiber for horses. Feeding hay before exercise can help prevent gastric acid from splashing around and causing further irritation to the stomach lining.

The Role of Stress in Ulcer Development and Management

Stress is a significant contributor to the development and exacerbation of gastric ulcers in horses. Understanding and managing stressors is essential for preventing ulcers and promoting healing in ulcer-prone horses.

Correlation Between Stress and Ulcers

Stress can disrupt a horse’s natural digestive processes and create an imbalance in the stomach’s acid production. This imbalance can lead to the erosion of the stomach lining and the formation of ulcers. Identifying and addressing the sources of stress in a horse’s environment is crucial for ulcer management.

Stress Management Techniques for Ulcer-Prone Horses

Managing stress in horses involves implementing a range of practices that promote relaxation and well-being. Providing a consistent and predictable routine, creating a calm and quiet environment, and allowing for ample turnout time can all help minimize stress levels in horses. Additionally, techniques such as massage, acupuncture, and herbal remedies may be beneficial for some individuals.

Impact of Diet on Gastric Ulcers in Horses

Diet plays a crucial role in preventing and managing gastric ulcers in horses. proper nutrition and feeding practices can help support the health of the stomach lining and reduce the risk of ulcer formation.

Limiting Carbohydrates in Horse’s Diet

Feeding a balanced diet and limiting the amount of carbohydrates, particularly simple sugars and starches, can help prevent ulcers. Diets rich in high-quality forage, such as hay or haylage, and low in concentrated feeds reduce the production of gastric acid and minimize the risk of ulceration.

The Use of Hay Prior to Exercise

Feeding a small amount of hay, approximately half a pound to a pound, before exercise can help provide a protective layer in the stomach, preventing excess acid production during physical activity. This practice is particularly beneficial for horses that experience stress-related ulcers.

The Role of Balanced Diet in Preventing Gastric Ulcers

A balanced diet that meets a horse’s nutritional needs is essential for overall health and can contribute to the prevention of gastric ulcers. Consulting with an equine nutritionist or veterinarian can help horse owners develop a diet plan that supports the integrity of the stomach lining and promotes the healing of existing ulcers.

The Role of FDA Approved Drugs in Managing Gastric Ulcers

In addition to lifestyle and dietary changes, various medications can help manage gastric ulcers in horses. One such FDA-approved drug is omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor that suppresses the production of gastric acid.

Use and Effectiveness of Omeprazole in Treating Horse Ulcers

Omeprazole is considered the gold standard treatment for gastric ulcers in horses. It helps reduce acid production in the stomach, allowing the ulcers to heal and preventing the formation of new ones. Omeprazole is available in various formulations, including oral paste and enteric-coated granules, making it easy to administer to horses.

Supplements in Ulcer Management

While there are numerous supplements available in the market that claim to support gastric ulcer management in horses, it is essential to approach them with caution.

Various Available Supplements in the Market

There is a wide array of supplements marketed for gastric ulcer management in horses. These supplements may contain ingredients such as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), aloe vera, or natural antacids. It is important to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist before incorporating any supplements into a horse’s diet.

Limitations and Benefits of Supplements

While some supplements may provide temporary relief or support to ulcer-prone horses, they should not be considered as a cure for gastric ulcers. Limited scientific evidence exists to support the efficacy of these supplements in treating or preventing ulcers. It is crucial to rely on veterinary guidance and evidence-based practices for the most effective ulcer management.


Understanding and managing gastric ulcers in horses is crucial for their overall health, well-being, and performance. Gastric ulcers can occur in horses of any breed or age, making proactive prevention and early intervention necessary. Working closely with a veterinarian, implementing stress reduction techniques, and providing appropriate nutrition are key components of successful ulcer management. Remember, proper diagnosis and treatment should always be sought from a veterinary professional, and continued research and study will contribute to a better understanding of equine gastric ulcers.