Supporting Your Horse’s Digestive Health: Diet Strategies for Ulcer Prevention

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Equine gastric ulcers afflict over 60% of recreational riding horses and up to 90% of competitive racehorses. The acidic stomach environment erodes the lining, creating painfully raw sores. Adjusting feeding practices proves crucial for preventing ulcers in susceptible horses and facilitating healing if ulcers develop. This guide covers optimal diet composition and schedules, warning sign recognition, treatment supplementation, and more strategies for maintaining your horse’s digestive well-being.

Supporting Your Horse’s Digestive Health

Why Horses Easily Develop Ulcers

Horses evolved as wandering grazers, continually nibbling on mostly roughage grass and hay. Their digestive systems function best with a constant flow of fibre steadily moving through.

However, modern management practices conflict with this natural design. Long stretches without eating, high-concentrate feeds, intense training programs, and environmental stress all commonly contribute to ulcers.

When a horse goes more than a few hours without any stomach contents, the acid eats away at the lining instead. Sweet feeds prompt excess acid production as well. Then athletic exertion and transport stress increase ulcer risk even further through impacts like restricted blood flow and dehydration.

Recognizing Signs of Possible Ulcers

Catching ulcers quickly is crucial for minimizing extensive tissue damage and complications. Subtle changes in behaviour, performance, or physical condition could indicate EGUS. Be alert for:

Appetite and Eating Changes

  • Decreased or picky appetite
  • Disinterest in favourite treats/feeds
  • Increased chewing or unusual eating posture

Performance Problems

  • Lack of usual willingness during training
  • Underachievement in competitions
  • Resistance to girthing or mounting

Physical Indicators

  • Recurring mild colic symptoms
  • Evidence of teeth grinding
  • Change in manure consistency
  • Deteriorating hair coat or weight loss

Promptly consult your vet about scoping the stomach if any concerning ulcer symptoms arise. Don’t let discomfort go undiagnosed and untreated.

Adjusting Feeding Practices for Preventative Care

While no universal diet guarantees against gastric ulcers in horses, making the appropriate feeding adjustments tailored to your individual’s needs can significantly reduce risks. Preventative measures focused on constant forage access, small meals, probiotics, and stress moderation help many ulcer-prone equines live comfortably.

Stay observant of subtle symptom changes that could indicate ulcers, and promptly involve your vet at the first signs. Detecting EGUS quickly not only spares unnecessary pain but greatly simplifies achieving full recoveries as well. Through appropriate dietary feeds that prevent ulcers coupled with veterinary treatment as needed, most affected horses can thrive and continue successful, ulcer-free careers.

Preventing Ulcers Through Diet

While some horses seem genetically prone to ulcers regardless of management style, maintaining a diet and feeding schedule tailored to EGUS vulnerability can help minimize risks. Always provide:

At Least 60% Forage

The foundational focus of any equine feeding plan should be supplying substantial forage, ideally allowing free choice hay. The fibre mass stays in the stomach longer, absorbing acidic secretions. Grass hay tends to offer superior buffering over legume hay like alfalfa. Mixing in some alfalfa may benefit certain horses though.

Small, Frequent Meals

Rather than one or two large daily grain meals offer a handful every few hours. This keeps a steady flow of feed entering the stomach so less acid accumulates. Employ slow feeders, small mesh hay nets, or scatter piles to stretch out consumption periods as well.

24/7 Forage Access

The longer acid-neutralizing fibre stays in a horse’s stomach, the better. Almost all horses benefit from unlimited forage availability day and night through stall hay nets, pasture grazing, or slow feeder access allowing meal nibbling anytime. Restrict this only if metabolic issues like laminitis or Cushing’s warrant.

Quality Protein Sources

Ensure protein sources like soybean meal are highly digestible and low producers of fermentation acids. Avoid poorly processed grains which increase volatile fatty acid and lactate acid production. Ask feed suppliers for ulcer-minimizing formulations.

Probiotic and Prebiotic Supplementation

Maintaining a healthy balance of “good” microbes through probiotic bacteria and prebiotic fibre fermentation in the hindgut may assist overall digestive efficiency and ulcer prevention in some horses. Consult your vet or equine nutritionist on appropriate specific products for your individual.

Adequate Water Intake

Support a healthy digestive environment by encouraging plenty of fresh water consumption. Clean buckets daily, employ automatic waterers to supply a constant clean source, and flavour with apple juice if needed to pique interest. Proper water intake may help buffer stomach acidity.

A Low-Stress Lifestyle

While not strictly a dietary factor, reducing overall stress levels also proves important for ulcer-prone horses. If possible, allow friends to design boarding facilities to maximize turnout and socialization opportunities, minimize long trailer rides, and create training programs that respect physical and mental workload capacities.

Treating Active Ulcers Through Specialized Diets

If your horse already has ulcer issues, the feeding focus shifts to encouraging healing and preventing recurrence. Work with your veterinarian and equine nutritionist to develop a therapeutic dietary plan that may incorporate:

Anti-ulcer Medications and Supplements

Pharmaceutical ulcer medications like omeprazole (GastroGard) inhibit acid production to reduce irritation during the initial healing phase. Certain supplements may help strengthen structural integrity too.

High Quality, Easily Digestible Feeds

Recovery diets should emphasize highly palatable, very digestible ingredients like beet pulp, rice bran or high-quality hays to reduce hindgut acid load. Some horses benefit from alfalfa inclusion.

Sucralfate or Antacid Supplementation

Providing ulcer coating and acid-neutralizing sucralfate or antacids right before high-risk periods offers supplemental protection. Administering via paste makes this easy.

Added Yeast Cultures

Special strain yeast additives can assist gut barrier integrity and microbial balance recovery through anti-inflammatory and pH-regulating activity in the hindgut after stomach insult.

Diet Transition Gradual Over 2-3 Weeks

Stick with previously tolerated ingredients initially, then transition very slowly to the new therapeutic diet over 14-21 days. This prevents any additional digestive upset to the already irritated system.

Conclusion: Prioritize Digestive Health in Horse Management

Through evolution, horses developed remarkably sensitive digestive systems adapted for near-constant grazing. Modern housekeeping often disrupts that delicate balance. However, conscientious owners can support their horse’s innate nutritional needs through proper diet, lifestyle adjustments, and prompt ulcer treatment when necessary. Maintaining digestive health should be a top priority right alongside fitness, training, and other care aspects. Identify any risk factors in your individual horse’s management, and take proactive steps to promote their lifelong comfort.

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