The best diet for ulcer prone horses consists of low starch & high fibre. While many companies market pre-packaged feed as ‘ulcer-friendly’ it always pays to look at the nutrition label. Or even better – make up your own feed from quality ingredients.
Feeds to Include
Fibre sources such as hay, haylage and grass are vital for a healthy digestive system and should form the majority of the diet. Fibre also provides the horse with excellent levels of slow release energy and a good source of calories and heat as it is fermented in the body.
Feeds to Limit
Starch is a carbohydrate found in cereal grains such as barley, maize and oats and provides a good source of fast release energy.
While starch is not ‘bad’ as such for the horse in small quantities, it can cause problems if the horse eats too much in one meal.
How much starch is too much?
The current guideline is to feed no more than 1g of starch per 1kg of body weight, so a 500kg horse could safely be fed no more than 500g of starch at a time.
Diet is important for successful ulcer treatment.
Feeds to consider
If your horse needs extra energy, look for feeds that have restricted starch and sugar levels and added oil rather than cereals. To help reduce the starch intake yet still supply enough energy for work, it is beneficial to add energy from fat supplements.
- Copra is naturally low in sugars and starches but has a high digestible energy content. Copra may support horses with metabolic disorders including tying up, laminitis or excitable behaviour.
- Soaked beet pulp has the same caloric value as oats. However, it is fermented in the hindgut.
- Lupins are high in fiber and protein and low in fat and starch
- Oils. Although there is a preference for omega-3 fatty acids. In the stomach, omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to stimulate production of protective prostaglandins and increase pH. Therefore, use corn oil, sunflower seeds, or stabilized rice bran as a fat supplement.
- Chaffs & Hays. Lucerne (also known as alfalfa) is effective in reducing the severity of ulcers by providing superior buffering capacity compared to grass forages. However, high levels of lucerne hay or chaff may not be desirable for some horses due to its high calorie, protein, and calcium levels. Ideally, lucerne/alfalfa should be included in hard feeds but should not form the basis of ad-lib forage access. Ideal forage for 24/7 access is low sugar grass forages (rhodes hay, teff, grass hay, etc)