Stomach Upset and Safeguarding your Horse's Health

 

This article by SmartPak got me thinking about ways to safeguard my horse's gut, especially this statistic: "An astonishing 60% of performance horses suffer from gastric ulcers."

 

What types of steps does everyone take to guard against ulcers, colic and general stomach upset?

 

In their natural state, horses are constantly grazing and their digestive system is continuously processing forage, breaking it down into nutrients that are then absorbed. This efficient engine fuels every action within the body, from basic functions like taking a breath, to complex actions like powering over a Grand Prix fence.

It’s easy to see that proper digestion is essential to your horse’s overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, modern horse-keeping often puts us at odds with Mother Nature. These days, most horses are confined to their stalls or small turnouts. Instead of constant access to fresh pasture, most diets consist of high concentrations of commercial feeds, usually fed twice a day. In addition to an unnatural feeding regimen, the stress of training, travel and competition can increase your horse’s risk for developing a wide range of digestive problems, from gastric ulcers to diarrhea and colic.

The good news is there is a lot you can do to help. You can make management changes to better mimic Mother Nature, and you can support your horse by providing targeted supplements for gastric and digestive health.

Belly Aching

An astonishing 60% of performance horses suffer from gastric ulcers. This painful condition can affect your horse’s appetite and digestive function, leading to weight loss, an unthrifty appearance, decreased performance, a poor attitude and even colic.

The only way to diagnose an ulcer is through an endoscopy, and the only way to heal an active ulcer is with prescription medication, like GastroGard (#10629, $38.50). For this reason, if you suspect your horse has an ulcer, there is no substitute for a veterinary consultation.

If your horse is currently healthy, consider optimizing his dietary program to avoid future problems. Constant access to fresh pasture is best, but can be difficult to come by, so consider providing free-choice grass hay as the basis of your horse’s diet. Alfalfa hay has been shown to help in the management of gastric ulcers, but should not be fed free choice. Feed the minimum amount of grain necessary to meet your horse’s energy requirements, and always feed several small meals, rather than fewer, larger ones.

 

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Comment by Marlene Thoms on May 31, 2012 at 11:56pm

Okay, camel milk sounds a little crazy. But hey lots of people around here keep llamas, not that different. You might be able to milk them? If you know the right llama mantra to get them to give it up without spitting in your eye.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on May 31, 2012 at 5:57pm

Remember Marlene that when the Bedouin could not find pasture (or drinkable water) they fed their horses camel milk, I wonder if that helped prevent ulcers?  The camel milk was quite nutritious, but I think they got it maybe once or twice a day.

I wonder, has anyone studied horses using camel milk?  Wouldn't it be great if camel milk prevented ulcers in horses?  All we would need to prevent ulcers is a lactating female camel, which, of course, would bring on new livestock management problems. 

 

Comment by Marlene Thoms on May 31, 2012 at 3:54pm

I have to keep slapping myself as to how little forage my guy needs. Duh, Marlene, his breed originated in the deserts of Arabia. I try to imagine how far he would have to travel for a bit of scrub grass or water. Of course they weren't a wild breed, but the nomads couldn't be bringing in truckloads of haybales either. It's sad and kind of ironic that in a world where there are so many starving horses, I  seem to have so much diffiulty figuring out how to feed him less than he thinks is optimal.

Comment by Barbara F. on May 31, 2012 at 9:55am

"While horses are theoretically trickle feeders, my guy's idea of a trickle is enough to put him in the obese range. I also believe that horses are "trickle" exercisers too. They need to be almost constantly "circulating" or walking in a relaxed manner. An intense exercise, or lunging too much in a circle, and then standing all day in a confined space is also not good for digestion and leads to chewing wood and boredom and possibly ulcers."

Agreed, agreed, agreed, Marlene! That is so well said!!!

 

Comment by Marlene Thoms on May 31, 2012 at 9:10am

My guy's digestion is directly connected to his hoof health. Fresh pasture in spring and fall hasn't always worked well for him, it's just too rich. He does well on grassy hay, but would gobble it up and then be hungry till the next feeding, a recipe for ulcers. Free choice when you choose to binge and starve doesn't work very well. So the best alternative for him has been a slow feeder net and dry lot. Or a muzzle on pasture, but that has it's own problems (still better than gorging on pasture). While horses are theoretically trickle feeders, my guy's idea of a trickle is enough to put him in the obese range. I also believe that horses are "trickle" exercisers too. They need to be almost constantly "circulating" or walking in a relaxed manner. An intense exercise, or lunging too much in a circle, and then standing all day in a confined space is also not good for digestion and leads to chewing wood and boredom and possibly ulcers.

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