Nationwide Scopings Indicate All Horses At Risk for Stomach Ulcers

From 2008 through 2010, Merial hosted gastroscopy events across the country as part of a study on gastric ulcers and the recently released results indicate that stomach ulcers are a threat to horses of all breeds and disciplines. Veterinarians scoped 3,354 horses, and more than 58% of them identified with some grade of stomach ulcer. In 2010 alone, 644 horses of varying disciplines from 30 states had some ulceration as identified by gastroscopy.

The results of the study revealed that:

  • 328 horses (28%) had Grade 1 ulcers (mild ulcers with small lesions or damaged tissue);
  • 232 horses (20%) had Grade 2 ulcers (moderate ulcers with large lesions); and
  • 84 horses (7%) had Grade 3 ulcers (extensive lesions with deep ulceration and bleeding).

The results also indicate that:

  • 74% of participating racehorses were affected;
  • 60% of participating hunter/jumper horses were affected; and
  • 55% of participating dressage horses were affected.

"Equine stomach ulcers, also called equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS), create a painful condition that can reduce your horse's performance and can lead to colic, weight loss, or loss of condition," says April Knudson, DVM, equine specialist for Merial's Large Animal Veterinary Services. "And wherever there is stress, there can be stomach ulcers. .... Transporting a horse, increased stall time, limited turnout, training, and competition can all contribute to EGUS. More surprising, a horse can develop stomach ulcers in as few as five days."

The only definitive way to diagnose a horse with stomach ulcers is for a veterinarian to look at the stomach with an endoscope. Knudson notes that the scoping results from Merial's study confirm what studies have found previously: that horses of all competitive disciplines are at risk for stomach ulcers.

Despite all of the data that supports the prevalence of equine stomach ulcers, approximately 75% of veterinarians that participated in a 2008 study "agreed or strongly agreed" that EGUS is under-diagnosed." Results from 2010 market research show that while 74% of horse owners have some concern about equine stomach ulcers, most have not used an EGUS therapy in the past 12 months.

"There is still a significant need for continued education about EGUS, as well as the importance of prevention," says Knudson. "(Merial) participates in numerous equine events throughout the country each year where we have the opportunity to talk one on one with horse owners, trainers, and veterinarians. For competitive horse owners, it's critically important to discuss stomach ulcer prevention, because ulcers can diminish the hard work, training, and commitment both horse and rider have worked so hard to achieve."

Preventing stomach ulcers is not only better for the health of the horse, but it is also more cost effective. But for those horses diagnosed with stomach ulcers, Knudson recommends a course of GastroGard (omeprazole) to treat them. She reminds owners, though, that if horses are exposed to stressful situations again, stomach ulcers can return--even after completion of a successful treatment program.

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