Equine Hindgut Ulcers: Symptoms, causes and treatment

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Sucralfate soothes associated pain of equine ulcers

Since sucralfate provides a protective coating over injured mucosa, or lining of the stomach and small intestine in the horse, it is often prescribed by veterinarians to both prevent and treat gastrointestinal ulcers.

Sucralfate is most effective in treating ulcers affecting the glandular part of the stomach. Since ulcers in foals and adult horses often involve the non-glandular part of the stomach, or the squamous areas, a veterinarian’s diagnosis is important. In cases involving the squamous type of mucosa or stomach/intestinal lining, sucralfate may be used in addition to other drugs, such as omeprazole or rantidine.

Non Gladular and Glandular

Symptoms and Causes of Hindgut Ulcers

You may see your horse as healthy on the outside, but if your horse constantly trains to compete, research shows that there is a big possibility that your horse will suffer from ulcers. More than 90% of racehorses and more than 60% of horses in other disciplines such as show jumping and dressage have been reported to suffer from gastric ulcers. Treatment of gastric ulcers has been well established over the years with continued studies. However, there is another digestive problem that is usually overlooked and –to a great extent – misunderstood and not so easy to diagnose. Hindgut ulcers in horses can also be a problem for horse owners without them realizing it.

Why do Horses Suffer from Colonic Ulcers?

Horses natural state of feeding 24/7 turnout, grazing at leisure – a lifestyle that is far different from that of a performance horse since they are subjected to stalling and irregular feeding schedule. However, this type of lifestyle is necessary for performance horses to get them by the competition. Gastric acid secretion in horses happens continuously, leaving the stomach vulnerable to the damaging effects of gastric acid when it is left with little to no food to digest. On top of that, performance horses have different diet than those that are pastured and offered free choice of forage. These performance horses consume a lot of soluble carbohydrates, which in turn increases the production of gastric acid and hasten gastric emptying. As a result, there is limited enzymatic digestion taking place inside the stomach and the small intestine, and undigested feed eventually find their way to the cecum and colon – the site where microbial digestion takes place. Bacteria or microorganisms present in the hindgut convert the undigested feed into lactic acid – that is not good news for the horse and horse owners. What happens is hindgut acidosis typical results and changes of the normal flora of the hindgut also take place, bringing detrimental effects on the colonic lining.

Chewing wood - symptom of ulcers in horses

Chewing wood – symptom of ulcers in horses

Recognizing Symptoms of Colonic Ulcers

Several signs and symptoms have been associated with gastric ulcers, but these signs and symptoms are more likely related to colonic ulcers instead. If you observe girthiness in your horse and it seems to be more sensitive along its flanks, it could be suffering from hindgut or colonic ulcers. Intermittent or regular diarrhea can also signal ulcerations in colon since diarrhea only tells you that the hindgut is not functioning well. In the case of gastric ulcers, horses are usually seen to develop behaviors such as cribbing and wood chewing. A sure way to distinguish symptoms of hindgut ulcers in horses and gastric ulcer is to have your veterinarian involved.

Treating Colonic Ulcers with Sucralfate.

Treating colonic ulcers is different from treating gastric ulcers. Medications, such as omeprazole, which is normally used for the treatment of gastric ulcers is not expected to be effective for hindgut ulceration. However, the use of sucralfate has been shown to treat an ulceration in the colon. Sucralfate  is a sucrose and aluminum hydroxide complex that works by binding to the site of ulceration, thereby forming a “protective coating” over the lesion. Once sucralfate binds to the lesion site, it also stimulate the production of prostaglandins – a protective chemical that enhances protection of the colon from further damage

Promoting Healthy Digestive System

In order for performance horses to stay on top of their game, it may be necessary for them to be stalled, given intensive training, and fed with a high-energy diet. With all these, it is important for the horse to maintain a healthy digestive system, considering that most of the horse’s proper physiologic functions rely on proper nutrient utilization. A horse with a healthy digestive system can achieve proper ingestion of feed, and then efficient digestion and absorption follows so the horse can meet the demands of its job. When it deems impossible to let your horse just be a trickle feeder, you need supportive treatment to protect your horse from equine hindgut ulcers.

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About Author

I grew up with horses on the family farm and have always had an interest in helping horses overcome medical conditions brought on by man made environmental issues. I have pursued a career in marketing and my interests are blog writing. Every spare moment I get on weekends and holidays is spent taking long rides with my wonderful OTTB Blaze.

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