Q:I have a 16-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse gelding who appears to be in perfect physical condition, except for one thing ... he belches. Often. You can hear it rolling all the way up from his belly into his throat, then out it comes, usually through his nose. It doesn't smell too bad, but definitely smells like it comes from the stomach. Can anything other than ulcers cause this? I am going to have him scoped. He was a show horse for many years and was probably placed under a great deal of physiologic stress. He looks to be at the peak of health, and he has no trouble eating or unusual bowel movements. He is happy and active. He is on pasture, and toward the winter he will be moved to the same grasses baled into hay.

Adela Henninger, Rathdrum, Idaho

A:It is generally accepted that horses don't belch because the cardiac sphincter (the valve between the stomach and esophagus) only allows one-way flow. Because of this, most horses will have gastric rupture when the stomach is distended because they cannot eructate (vomit or belch). That being said, most veterinarians would recognize that this is not always true. Some horses will "belch." Others with gastrointestinal problems preventing fluid from getting out of the stomach through the small intestine will spontaneously reflux. The jump to gastric ulcers is a bit of a leap for me. At this time it sounds like your horse has a pretty relaxed lifestyle, including pasture and not a large workload. I am wondering if your horse is cribbing or windsucking. Some horses will crib on physical structures, while others will simply clench their teeth and flex at the poll to do it. I don't think it will hurt to have a gastroscopy done, but maybe you can have your veterinarian observe the horse, also.

Response from the horse's owner:

My horse doesn't crib or suck wind. A scope did indicate that he has an unusually straight entryway into his stomach, which allows normal gases to escape up his esophagus. This is perfectly fine, but I must watch him for symptoms of ulcers, as that also means that stomach acids could follow the same route under certain circumstances ... it also means that, given the right conditions, he is probably capable of vomiting, which I really hope I never deal with because that would truly be something I am not prepared for! My vet says I am blessed with a weird, happy, healthy, burping horse.

Adela Henninger

About the Author

Scott R. McClure, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS

Scott R. McClure, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, is Assistant Professor of Equine Surgery at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University. Since presenting a paper on ESWT at the 2000 AAEP Convention, he has continued with shock wave research and has written several more papers on the topic.

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