Cause of ulcers in horses | How to Manage and Prevent the disease


Cause Of Ulcers in Horses, How To Manage and Prevent the Disease

Research is what gives us the severity of a problem of cause of ulcers in horses.Based on these numbers, it is of importance to note that more than 60% of performance horses are diagnosed with gastric ulcers once or severally in their lives. 40% of leisure horses also get this condition. It may not be given the seriousness it deserves since it is not largely known. Luckily, advancements in technology have made it possible for the condition to be verifiable.

While the root causes of ulcers in horses are vague, speculation attributes it to the acid in the stomach and stress. Stress can be associated with horses that are constantly traveling or competing. Occasionally, bacteria can also cause this condition.

Understanding the stomach of a horse

An adult horse is estimated to produce 1.5litres of gastric acid per hour. Because of this, the feeding should be constant so as to buffer that acid. This is made possible by providing lots of turnout time. On the contrary, performance horses are stabled thus the higher likelihood of getting this condition. The stomach of a horse is divided into 2 regions:

The upper region is only protected by the buffering of saliva. It is described as the squamous region. Saliva is only produced when a horse is chewing. The amount of saliva produced will vary depending on the feed.

The lower region is protected by mucosal cells and the stomach lining. It is also described as glandular epithelium. Hydrochloric acid is continuously produced in this part of the stomach.

There is a junction between the upper region and lower region of the stomach known as margo plicatus.

For ulceration to occur it means that acid production has exceeded the protective factors. During training, acids in the lower region are pushed up (splashed) to the upper region. Evidently, most ulcers are found on the upper region adjacent to the margo plicatus.

Certain bacteria strains have also been discovered to survive in the stomach of a horse and cause ulcers.

Causes of Ulcers in horses

  1. Poor or improper feeding leading to the production of little to no saliva.
  2. Long intervals between feed or fasting
  3. Exercise given- Increased exercise mostly affects the feeding intervals and the type of feed given. This increases the chances of ulcers developing.
  4. Chronic use of medication (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  5. Stress due to travel/transportation

Gastric ulcer symptoms in horses

The biggest problem with this condition is how the symptoms can be subtle, non-specific and irregular. These may include:

  • Reduction in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Improper feeding
  • Dullness of the coat
  • A change in physical condition( becomes poor)
  • Attitude change such as irritability and uneasiness
  • Colic (after eating or nursing)
  • Deteriorating performance
  • Reluctance to train or work

Worth noting though is that your horse exhibiting one or more symptoms mentioned above does not necessarily mean it has gastric ulceration.

To accurately diagnose gastric ulcers, be sure to seek the services of a veterinarian. An invasive exam will be carried out using a scoping device. This device will verify the presence of a lesion or lesions, and also the extent to the damage of the stomach lining. Another reminder is that the symptoms observed are not always proportional to the extent of the ulceration.


An invasive procedure that views the inside of the stomach is carried out to verify gastric ulcers. An endoscope that has a camera and a light relays the images of the inside of the stomach to a monitor. Apart from verifying the presence of ulceration, this procedure also shows the severity of the problem.

As much as ulcers are said to develop on the upper region of the stomach, sometimes the lesions can be found on the lower region.


With a positive diagnosis of gastric ulcers, treatment should be started ulcer medication can be in form of granules, oral paste or tablets. The treatment works by doing the following:

  1. Suppress acid production by sending slow signals to the cells. This should be administered three times a day
  2. Raising the PH level in the stomach
  3. Buffering the action of the acid in the stomach

Omeprazole has been found to be the best treatment for gastric ulcers. It is administered once daily according to the weight of your horse. Within a few days, there should be a noticeable change in your horse’s behavior. Total healing takes up to four weeks. Depending on your preference, you can either keep your horses routine or change it. Horse ulcer medication can be bought with or without a prescription. It should be quickly administered as soon as gastric ulcer symptoms in horses are noticed.


So you have best horse ulcer treatment at work for you and it’s only been a few days and you notice an improvement. Do you sit back and enjoy the victory?

They say, “Once bitten, twice shy”.

Being on a good treatment course will not keep the ulcer from reoccurring, especially if you fall back to your old habits. Ensure that caution is taken in the day to day management and care of your horse. Observe the following:

  • Feed frequently
  • Enhance the production of saliva by giving more forage as it has more fiber
  • Introduce feed chaffs like Alfalfa and fibergy
  • Limit the use of medication that causes gastric irritation.
  • Turnout more as your horse will be able to feed at will
  • Extend eating time by introducing slow feeders like haynets
  • Use supplements that add vitamins, minerals, and calories
  • Transportation should be infrequent and training not as rigorous.

Practice makes perfect

Practicing the management and prevention habits above ensure that your horse is ulcer free. Remember the age doesn’t matter. Whether your horse is a few days old or an adult, whether your horse is a performance horse or not. Better to be safe than sorry and the best way is to administer Omeprazole as soon as you suspect the presence of gastric ulcers.





About Author

Horse blogger....I am a horsewoman who has a general interest in horses, love talking about horses' and writing about day-to-day horse care issues.

Leave A Reply