Gastric Ulcer Supplements for Horses Evaluated

Gastric Ulcer Supplements for Horses Evaluated

One alternative to treating ulcers with pharmaceutical drugs is to use anti-ulcerogenic dietary supplements, one of which has been shown to play an important role in gastric mucosal defense against the damaging effects to luminal acid in dogs.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

If you are among the 25 million people (1 in 10 Americans) that have suffered from an ulcer at some point in their lives, then you are no stranger to either the accompanying persistent, dull ache or the sharp, shooting pain in the abdomen. Horses also are commonly affected, with an estimated 90% of performance horses and more than 50% of foals diagnosed with ulcers. These ulcers can cause weight loss, a dull hair coat, poor performance, and behavioral problems. Unfortunately, long-lasting, effective treatments and preventive methods are limited.

"Existing therapies for gastric ulcers in horses include medications such as drugs that decrease the amount of acid produced in the stomach (such as omeprazole or ranitidine) or drugs that coat the lining of the stomach to protect it, like sucralfate," explained Macarena G. Sanz, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, from the Section of Equine Medicine, Department of Companion Animal Clinical Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, in Onderstepoort, South Africa. "These therapies require an extended treatment time, are expensive, and the effect does not persist once discontinued."

Sans, who is currently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center, discussed ulcer supplements at the 12th Congress of The World Equine Veterinary Association held in Hyderabad, India, held Nov. 2-6.

Ulcers can develop in both the nonglandular and glandular portions of a horse's stomach, and they are most commonly found in the area of the margo plicatus (the region that separates the glandular from nonglandular portions of the stomach). The glandular part of the stomach contains a mucosa with glands that secrete acid and pepsin, which are important aids in the early digestion of food. The glands also produce bicarbonate and mucus, which help form a protective barrier over the mucosal surface. This protects the glandular stomach from the damaging effects of acid and pepsin. The non-glandular region, however, has few defenses and is particularly susceptible to injury caused by stomach acid (i.e., ulcers).

One alternative to treating ulcers with pharmaceutical drugs is to use anti-ulcerogenic dietary supplements, one of which is a pectin-lecithin supplement, which has been shown to play an important role in gastric mucosal defense against the damaging effects to luminal acid in dogs. Further, pectins might bind acids of the gastric juice and prevent them from damaging the stomach.

To determine if this nutritional supplement could effectively prevent the formation of ulcers in horses, Sanz and colleagues conducted a study using 10 horses. For 28 days they fed five mares hay (2.5% of their body weight) and 500 mg of the pectin-lecithin supplement according to the manufacturer recommendations mixed with concentrates (1% of body weight) daily. They fed the other five mares the same amount of hay and concentrates only.

At the end of a 28-day period, researchers "induced" ulcers in the horses using a previously well-documented model involving 96 hours of intermittent feed deprivation. Three different veterinarians who were all blinded to treatment scoped (gastroscopy) the horses' stomachs on Days 0, 28, and 35 of the study to digitally record and independently evaluate the presence or absence of ulcers. Key findings were that:

  • The number and severity of ulcers increased significantly after intermittent feed deprivation; and
  • No significant effects of the treatment were observed.

"In this study, after feeding this nutritional supplement to horses for five weeks neither prevented the formation of gastric ulcers nor decreased the severity score of the ulcers," concluded Sanz.

Sanz said the only method thought to be effective for protecting the stomach from gastric ulcers is feeding alfalfa hay.

A full summary of Sanz et al.'s presentation titled, "The efficacy of a commercially available pectin-lecithin complex for the treatment and prevention of squamous gastric ulcers in horses," is available for free on the International Veterinary Information System.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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