Stomach ulcers or Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) is a common condition that affects many disciplines and breeds of horses. In racehorses, studies have shown that more than 90% of horses in training may have gastric ulcers while a study of dressage and hunters showed that more than 60% were affected. Ulcers are common among all groups of horses that train or show.
There are factors that increase a horse’s risk of developing gastric ulcers: decreased grazing time or feeding limited amounts of hay, high grain diets, strenuous exercise, training, trailering, physical stress (from illness or other factors), and certain medications such as bute or banamine.
Symptoms of gastric ulcers are often difficult to detect, although they may have a serious effect on performance and horse comfort. Many horses will show only one symptom. Some example symptoms in adult horses include: attitude changes, dullness, poor or reduced performance, poor condition, decreased appetite, and colic.
EGUS can be difficult to recognize since the symptoms may often be vague. The only accurate way to diagnose and determine the severity of ulcers is by gastroscopy. Gastroscopy is a relatively non-invasive procedure that involves passing a 3 meter video endoscope into the stomach to check for ulcers. If you suspect that your horse may have ulcers, consult with your veterinarian to determine if gastroscopy is indicated.
The good news is that gastric ulcers can be successfully treated. Treatment involves the use of anti-ulcer medications as well as changes in management factors and feeding. There are also prevention protocols that can be designed for horses that participate in high risk activities.