Equine Ulcers--More Than Just a Stomach Ache

The creation of the long fiberoptic flexible endoscope opened a new world to equine veterinarians and researchers who for the first time were able to view a living horse's stomach. What they found was that horses get gastric ulcers frequently associated with exercise and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use.

It is known in humans that long-term use of NSAIDs can cause small bowel and colonic ulcerations and strictures, but there has been little work done on that problem in horses.

Frank Pellegrini, DVM, vice president of veterinary medicine for Freedom Health, completed a necroscopic study of stomach and colon ulcers in 2004. His estimate was that about 63% of the 180 performance horses he examined from a Texas abattoir had colonic ulceration. He found 87% of these horses also had gastric ulcers. After horses were euthanatized, he performed necropsies on them. He said 97% of all the horses had ulceration, and 54% had both gastric and colonic ulcers.

Prior to the dissection of each horse, a fecal sample was collected, tested for blood, and correlated to the outcome of the gross exam of intestinal tissue. He concluded that when there was a positive test in the absence of gastric ulcers, then colonic ulcers were always present. "Thus, endoscopy in combination with this test can provide a significant test for colonic ulcers," Pellegrini said.

He is developing a test that can use a fecal sample to check for blood from the GI tract in order to help vets determine if a horse has colonic ulcers. He hopes further research and development will result in a test that can differentiate between blood from gastric and colonic ulcers.

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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