Ulcer Pain

Horse owners cause ulcers. What else are we to conclude when one of the world's leading researchers in this area of equine health says that "100%" of domestic horses have ulcers at some point in their lives. Ulcers are one of those problems that probably have plagued horses since we first put bit in mouth and sat astride, but one that we only recognized and were able to diagnose with certainty in the last decade. That is due to the development of a fiber-optic endoscope long enough to reach the adult horse's stomach.

The large pharmaceutical company Merial has our thanks for creating and marketing the first medication that actually cures ulcers. In scientific studies, GastroGard (omeprazole), the first drug of its kind that received FDA approval for healing gastric ulcers in horses, also kept ulcers from recurring in many horses.

This is not an inexpensive treatment, costing $40-$60 per day for treatment, depending on the type of administration and on geographic location and circumstances. Yes, GastroGard appears to be the very best ulcer treatment compound available, but perhaps not every horse owner will be able to afford it. And from what the research has concluded, if you have an athletic horse, at some point in his career, he'll have an ulcer, whether you know it or not.

There are alternative treatments, although they might not be as effective as omeprazole. The next best approach seems to be administering histamine receptor type 2 (H2) antagonists. Treatment with H2 antagonists, researchers say, has been successful in resolving gastric lesions. The two most frequently used are cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac). Both inhibit gastric secretion in the equine stomach.

Even these drugs are expensive, although they are cheaper than omeprazole.

Management can help your horse, as you can find out in our cover story. However, it's up to us to recognize the problem, avoid situations that add to the development of ulcers, and respect that horses with ulcers might not be "happy campers," tending to be a bit grumpy.

One researcher said that when he was studying ulcers in horses via endoscopy, he noticed that as the ulcers healed, the horses had a better"attitude." These were racehorses, and anyone who has walked the backside knows to watch his back or risk having a plug taken out by some irritable runner with his head over the webbing.

Now not all grouchy horses have ulcers. In fact, our cover girl, Costume, was scoped and found to be fine and dandy. She just doesn't particularly like her space being invaded by anything, especially around dinner time. But since the connection has been noticed between attitude and ulcers--please recognize this wasn't a scientific study, just an observation--then it might mean we should get our veterinarian to give that grouchy horse a little look to see if he has a real reason to complain. Maybe he's like Costume and it's all attitude. But maybe he's trying to tell you something--like his gut hurts! Quit swatting at his nose and yelling at him and find out if he has a reason called ulcers.

AAEP Preview & AVMA Welfare

This year's convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) looks to be one of the best in recent years. Not only is there a tremendous line-up of top-notch researchers and practicing veterinarians from around the world, but the topics are cutting-edge and practical, offering your veterinarian useful information that he or she can bring home to your farm.

Strangles, our old friend who seems to have gained new life in the last few years, is the topic to be addressed by John Timoney, MVB, PhD, DSc. Timoney is the winner of the American Veterinary Medical Association's 1999 Bayer Excellence in Equine Research Award. A researcher at the Gluck Equine Research Center in Kentucky, Timoney is the Keeneland Professor of Infectious Diseases and has been researching Streptococcus equi for nearly two decades.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the parent organization for all veterinarians, is holding for the first time an Equine Welfare Forum at the AAEP Convention. The forum is important because it will address strictly welfare issues of horses, and the group isn't pulling any punches. It is hitting topics like PMU ranching, transportation to slaughter regulations, carriage horses, endurance riding, animals in rodeo, racing, and the Horse Protection Act. Other topics include The Revolution in Horsemanship, Equine Welfare and Emerging Social Ethics, and The Equine Practitioner's Role in Disasters.

At The Horse, we feel it is our responsibility to bring our readers information on these types of topics, and it seems that the leading veterinary organization feels the same. We have visited PMU ranches in the dead of winter, watched as horses went through the slaughter process in a Texas summer, and brought you the latest on equine disaster management.

These aren't pretty topics; they aren't designed for those who don't care about horses. They are important because horse owners and people in the equine industry need to be aware of the facts behind these topics, the problems that they bring to the industry, and the way we are viewed by the non-equine world.

While you might get your hackles up a bit at that last statement, remember that while there are about seven million people involved in the equine industry in the United States, we are a minority. We can be regulated by people who know nothing more about horses than what they've seen on television or in the movies. And we all know how realistically those media portray things.

Celebrities champion causes that sound wonderful, but in reality might not be in the best and most humane interest of the animals. From veterinarians, I have heard story after story about well-meaning people who make the lives of animals miserable. Ignorance can be a dangerous thing, especially when teamed with an emotional issue.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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