Colic: Recovering Horse Ulcer Risk

For riders, stress levels rise each time their horse is injured or hospitalized. However, the stress of equine injuries can take their toll on the patient, too.

Dressage competitor Debbie McDonald understands the stresses of competition after logging more than 40 years in the show ring, including two Olympic equestrian appearances as well as bronze and silver medals at the World Equestrian Games.

However, McDonald also understands the stresses of equine injuries, especially after her long-time mount, Brentina, had to undergo colic surgery in 2009.

McDonald said Brentina is now fully recuperated, but her recovery took time. While Brentina was recovering, she was required to stay in her stall and, initially, could only have a small amount of hay every few hours. McDonald says she knew the stresses of stall confinement and limited hay could easily lead to equine stomach ulcers--an added problem that Brentina certainly didn't need.

"I knew that a handful of hay every few hours would allow a lot of acid to build up in her stomach," McDonald said. "While she was confined to her stall, we put her on Ulcergard (omeprazole) to help prevent stomach ulcers."

Even when horses are healthy, routine events--such as traveling, training, and competition--can be stressful enough to lead to stomach ulcers. However, injuries can add to the stress level, said April Knudson, DVM, manager of Veterinary Services for Merial, the makers of Ulcergard.

"Whether injured or healthy, horses are extremely sensitive to stress," Knudson said. "But, when a horse is hurt, being confined to a stall, hauled to the vet for a check-up, or being taken away from herdmates, the stress can be enough to cause stomach ulcers to develop--sometimes in as little as five days. And, when a horse is already laid up with one injury, you certainly don't want to add another illness to the list."

Knudson said veterinarian-mandated diet changes also can contribute to stomach ulcers.

"A horse's stomach can produce up to 16 gallons of acid each day," Knudson explained. "In a natural grazing environment, forage in the stomach helps to create a buffer for the stomach acid. But, when a horse is injured--especially in the case of colic surgery--a veterinarian may recommend limited hay intake, which can allow acid to build up in the horse's stomach and lead to stomach ulcers."

McDonald said, injured or not, there isn't a horse in her barn that isn't on Ulcergard during a stressful situation.

"As a trainer, you also need to be a good horseman in general," McDonald said. "Our job is to take care of the horses as best we can, and that can be hard to do in the life of a horse that is injured or competing regularly. Good management and Ulcergard have helped me to care for my horses to the best of my ability."

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