Understanding the Anatomy of a Horse’s Stomach
For a better approach in treating ulcers in horses, one must have an understanding on how the equine stomach works.
Horses have a small-size stomach in relation to their size. This means that a horse can only eat limited amount of food in one go. An average-sized horse weighs about 800-1,200 pounds or 360-540 kg and its stomach can hold up to 4 US gallons (15 L) of contents but can extend to store 2 US gallons (7.6 L) of contents. The contents of the stomach travel down to the intestines once the stomach is 2/3 full and whether or not digestive enzymes have completed their task.
The equine stomach comprises of a non-glandular and glandular portion, both of which are separated by a border called the margo plicatus. The squamous mucosa or the non-glandular portion is the part of the stomach usually that is usually affected by digestive ulcers. The glandular mucosa or the glandular portion covers two-thirds of the stomach and this is where glands that produce gastric acid are found. Ulcers may less likely develop here because of the presence of several protective substances. However, it does not rule out impossible ulcer occurrence in this particular region.
Other parts found in an equine stomach are the pylorus (a portion of the stomach leading to the small intestine) and duodenum (uppermost part found in the small intestine responsible for digestive roles since it carries digested food out from the equine stomach). The stomach lining contains several cells known as acid-stimulating receptors that trigger secretion of gastric acid and is particularly sensitive to stress and diet.
Gastric acid is an integral part of the digestion process
In a natural setting where horses graze, a steady flow of gastric acid is needed for proper digestion. A horse’s stomach can produce gastric acid 24/7. Naturally, when they take in high-roughage diet, the acid is being controlled or buffered by saliva and feed. However, when they take high-grain feeds, stomach acid levels increase significantly.
More is not always better and that goes for stomach acid as well.
As mentioned, the stomach mucosa is home to several receptors that stimulate acid production and are sensitive to stress and diet. When these receptors are activated, acid secretion commences. If acid levels are not controlled, it can reach the squamous mucosa and destroy the stomach lining. Ulcers are then formed and horses respond by having loss of appetite, aggravating the condition further. This cycle continues on and can be really injurious to the horse if left untreated.
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