Symptoms of ulcers vary depending on age of the horse. Gastric ulcers can be accurately confirmed with stomach scoping by a veterinarian.
Typical signs include:
- Declining performance
- Mild recurrent colic
- Weight loss
- Dull coat
- Teeth grinding
- Decreased appetite
Causes of Ulcers
Horses in intensive training are especially likely to develop ulcers since exercise and high grain diets increase acid production. Other factors that can lead to ulcers are:
- Confinement to stalls
- High grain diets that increase acid production
- Hauling, especially long distances
- Long hours between feedings
- Isolation and lack of turnout
- Poor diet, inadequate oils, Omega 3 sources
Ulcers are a common medical condition in horses and foals. It is estimated that almost 50% of foals and one-third of adult horses confined in stalls may have mild ulcers. Up to 60% of performance horses and 90% of racehorses may develop moderate to severe ulcers. Because ulcers are so common, the condition is often called "equine gastric ulcer syndrome" (EGUS) or "equine gastric ulcer disease" (EGUD).
Both stress and intense exercise deplete neurotransmitters crucial for the adequate blood flow to the stomach. This decreased blood flow reduces the production of mucus necessary to protect the stomach lining from stomach acid. The result is ulceration of the stomach lining.
Intestinal ulcers can show similar symptoms to stomach ulcers but they do not respond to acid blockers or buffer drugs. Natural products that do not contain high amounts of aluminum buffers are the best choice for long-term prevention and treatment of ulcers. Equine Chia fits this description.
Not All Fats are Created Equal
Oil is critical to the horse's diet. Natural grass provides a 3:1 ratio of essential fatty acids (EFA’s) omega-3 to omega-6, which horses require. Omega-3s decrease inflammation and help fight free radicals. Equine Chia is an oil seed with precisely 3 times more omega-3 than omega-6. According to a Texas A&M Study, Corn oil (source of omega-6) was shown to cause an increase in inflammation. Further more, refined oils are processed and stripped of "impurities," which can often be the source of valuable nutrients, thereby increasing the risk of excessive inflammation.
Inadequate oil intake contributes to very unstable blood sugar patterns that stress the horse's metabolism by causing an increase in the release of cortisol, adrenaline and insulin. When these hormones are over-relied on, the increases can affect mood, performance, immune function, injury prevention as well increasing risk of colic and ulcers.
Because fats digest slowly, the blood sugar does not become disrupted as easily, thus reducing the amount and frequency of stress hormone and insulin release, which then reduces inflammatory stress, a common cause of gastric ulcers.
Unrefined oils, such as organically grown chia seeds of Equine Chia, contain natural antioxidants. They are a rich source of Omega 3, have a longer shelf life, are easily digested, and reduce risk of excessive inflammation.
How a Horse's Stomach Works
To understand why horses are prone to ulcers, it is most important to know the horse’s stomach continually produces stomach acid. It is divided into two distinct parts. The non-glandular portion is lined by tissue similar to the lining of the esophagus. The glandular portion is lined with glandular tissue, which produces hydrochloric acid and pepsin, an enzyme needed for the digestion of food. This part of the digestive system also produces substances to protect the stomach from the effects of the acid and enzymes. In humans, eating stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid. In the horse, however, hydrochloric acid is constantly being produced. So, if a horse does not eat, the acid accumulates in the stomach, causing irritation. Gastric ulcers most commonly occur in the division between the glandular and the non-glandular (esophagus) portion of the stomach, called the margo plicatus.
Treatment of Gastric Ulcers in Horses
Traditional medications and changes in management practices are the common cornerstones of therapy for equine gastric ulcers. Rising awareness in Holistic treatment includes using natural products, such as Equine Chia, that work with the horses system to strengthen natural defenses.
Current medications are used for three purposes: (1) to decrease acid production, (2) to buffer the acid that is produced, and (3) to protect the lining of the stomach from the effects of the acid. Equine Chia can aid all three purposes.
In summary, H2 blockers are medications that block the action of histamine which stimulates the production of stomach acid. Buffers are Antacids to buffer the action of the stomach acid (effective for only a short time, less than an hour). Protectants are certain drugs to block acid from coming into contact with the stomach lining, although not as effective in the esophageal portion of the stomach.
Holistic Horse Care Management
Proven recommendations that are almost always necessary include:
- Feeding Equine Chia at 2 oz. (1/3 cup) per day.
- Avoiding or decreasing the amount of grain.
- Using supplements to provide balanced vitamins and minerals.
- Feeding healthy oils to add calories the horse may need (such as Equine Chia and and whole extruded soybeans or unrefined soybean oil).
- Increasing the amount of roughage in the diet.
- Increasing the amount of time the horse is actually eating. Using slow feed hay nets are good alternatives to pasture.
- Giving probiotics to aid in digestion.
Many ulcers in foals heal without treatment. In adults, the clinical signs may improve within 1-2 days of starting treatment, however it takes weeks or months for ulcers to completely heal. Be sure to follow your veterinarian's recommendations. If you stop treatment earlier than your veterinarian suggests, the ulcer may not completely heal. Equine Chia is proven effective as part of a treatment and prevention plan for ulcers.
In one experimental field study in 2009, a yearling with right dorsal colitis (severe ulcers) was treated with 30 days drug treatment and bio-sponge (clay). The colt continued to suffer periodic bouts of painful colic after this treatment. The owner and veterinarian team added Equine Chia to the daily vitamin/mineral supplement at one-third cup twice per day. All other drugs were discontinued. Positive results were immediately observed. Appetite increased, teeth grinding stopped, manure stools were consistent and no further episodes of colic occurred. The yearling made a full recovery. The owner continues to feed Equine Chia at a maintenance dose 6 days per week as a preventative measure and for the added benefits of sand-clearing and omega-3 dietary oils.
Feeding Equine Chia for ongoing treatment and prevention of ulcers is widely accepted as part of an effective holistic program. Benefits are many-fold, including a proper ratio of Omega 3 oil to decrease inflammation, the ability to increase blood flow and mucous production in the stomach, the gelatinous nature of chia seeds protecting the mucous lining of the stomach and intestines and the combined effect of the oily gelatinous seeds slowing carbohydrate digestion, thereby stabilizing blood sugar and strengthening overall function of the equine digestive tract.
References: Texas A&M University study, Alteration in the Inflammatory Response in Athletic Horses Fed Diets Containing Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids; Research articles by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. and IVIS (International Veterinary Information Service).
Disclaimer: The information is for education only and is not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or treat illness. Check with your veterinarian or holistic doctor for specific treatment plans.