Ulcers in Horses: A Pain in the Gut

You're cranky. That burning pain is rolling up through your gut and seems to awaken every nerve in your body, and not in a good way. No position is comfortable, and nothing makes it go away. You eat and it seems to ease the pain, but only a little and only for a while. You drink, but the fire won't be put out. You can't concentrate, and no one better bother you while your're trying to cope with the pain. Maybe this is anthromorphizing a bit, but if horses feel the way we do with acid reflux and/or ulcers, it's no wonder those problems keep them off their feed, out of the ribbons and money, and grumpy with the world.

Nexium ("the little purple pill") for humans is an esomeprazole magnesium. GastroGard for horses--the only FDA-approved medication for prevention and treatment of equine gastric ulcers--is omeprazole. Those drugs are cousins. The amazing part of the problem for our horses is that while stress is a known cause for ulcers, it can take only a matter of days for ulcers to start. And besides GastroGard, the only approved treatment is to take horses out of training and put them out to pasture. So, it looks like gastric ulcer syndrome in horses is often a man-made disease, and we should be aware of it and help our horses.

Equine ulcers are usually a secondary problem following stress or over-use of/sensitivity to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Research has shown more than 90% of racehorses and up to 80% of competition horses have ulcers.

This is not to say every grumpy horse has ulcers, or every high-level competition horse is afflicted. But it also is possible that horses we would consider living with low-level stress without any classic signs have the ulcer syndrome.

While the signs are telling, only endoscopic viewing of the stomanch lining will give an accurate diagnosis at this time. However, urine tests and even breath tests are coming as diagnostics.

So, as you are letting your horse down this winter, watch his demeanor. Do the longer days outside seem to make him mellower? Does more hay and less grain tend to keep him from being so grumpy? Is he happier and performing better on the days you do work him? Chances are he could have ulcers.

Ask your veterinarian and see if the "little purple pill" for horses is something you should invest in. Take it from me, if your stomach ain't happy, ain't nothing going to make you happy.

Shots in the Dark?

Last year we ran a 12-part series on deworming. It's not a glamorous subject, but it is probably one of the most-read and appreciated series we have done. Responding to the popularity of that series, we will do another 12-part series in 2005, this one on vaccination. With many new products on the market, the question of maternal antibody interference in youngsters, and new diseases attacking our animals, horse owners have questions.

We are going to experts at universities and to those who actually manufacture the vaccines, to get the bottom line on what you need to know to keep your horses protected against disease.

Complete Parasite Series Now Available

And speaking of the 12-part series from 2004 about parasites, we have had numerous requests to make this information available in one tidy bundle. We know it's hard to keep track of all your magazines, and while each of these articles is online at www.TheHorse.com, you might not have a computer in the barn when you have a question about deworming.

Therefore, we have compiled all 12 deworming articles into one location on our web site and made them easy to download onto your computer or to print out to make a "handbook" on deworming.

Simply go to www.TheHorse.com/parasites. There you will find all of the articles in a PDF format ready to download or print off free of charge.

We hope it makes caring for your horses a little easier in 2005.

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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