Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are extremely common in all horses.  Horses are designed to graze continuosly, any alteration in this can cause ulcers in as quickly as 24hrs.  Continuous grazing provides protection of the stomach lining and also reduces the gastric acid contact.

Studies indicate that around 37% of leisure horses, 63% of performance horses and 93% racehorse have gastric ulcers.  Foals are a particular risk due to their developing immune system, changing gastrointestinal environment and susceptibility to stress i.e. weaning, feed changes, illness, injury with around 50% of foals in the first few months of life developing gastric ulceration.

Grain & pellet feeds change the production of gastric acids in the gastrointestinal system increasing the chances of ulceration.  Stress reduces the normal protective mechanisms of the gut.


Causes of Ulcers

  • Changes in training intensity
  • Reduces blood flow to the stomach
  • Pressure on the stomach causes acid to move around & come into contact with the sensitive area of the stomach
  • Changes in eating behaviour
  • A new horse on the property
  • Feed type  - wheat, high starch, high grain diets
  • Feeding frequency – large amounts in frequently
  • Prolonged periods without feed
  • Yarding
  • Teeth problems
  • Paddock dynamics with other horses
  • Pain
  • Medications particularly NSAIDs e.g. bute & antibiotics – altering the gut bacterial population & inhibit protective substances
  • STRESS – influence feed intake & acid production.
  • Psychological, physical & illness

Possible signs of Ulcers

  • Poor performance
  • Lacking coat shine
  • Yawning
  • Teeth grinding
  • Not eating well, picky
  • Colic bouts
  • Girthiness
  • A change in attitude/behaviour
  • Dull

Treatment options

  • Slippery elm bark powder – 1/3 cup twice daily made into a paste with chamomile tea – given for at least 12 weeks
  • GB 10 – a calcium/ magnesium antacid – slows down digestion therefore reducing acid production
  • Omeprazole – if ulcers severe and can’t be managed, but I do not believe this is a sustainable long term option.  The production of gastric acid in the stomach is very important for digestion

Prevention options:

  • Feed sufficient roughage.  As a general rule of thumb, a horse should receive 1% of body weight in roughage per day.   Roughage available at all times it optimal
  • Feed smaller meal frequently. Increases food retention time in the stomach, aiding to buffer gastric secretions.  Large meals are passed more quickly through the gastrointestinal tract.  Optimally 4 x daily (not more than 6hours without feeding)and not greater then 2kg of grain per feed.
  • Don’t exercise on an empty stomach.  Feed a small, protein dense feed prior i.e. a small amount of Lucerne hay 30 minutes before working
  • Pre-biotic and pro-biotic supplements may aid bacterial population balance.
  • Linseed meal – ½ cup twice daily – omega 3 fatty acids – reduce inflammation
  • Minimise the use of NSAID’s. i.e Bute
  • Check teeth regularly.
  • Avoid prolonged periods of fasting - ulcers have been shown to develop within 10-12 hours when horses have no access to feed
  • Placing feed bins placed on the ground - improves chewing efficiently which improves saliva production which aids buffering of gastric acids.


It is important to note that veterinary treatments i.e. omeprazole  reduce gastric acid production but do not provide nourishment to the gastrointestinal tract wall or address the underlying cause.  They may be needed at certain times but are not ideal for long term use and the gastrointestinal tract function/ digestion is altered which causes an imbalance in the body and may lead to problems down the track.

Where possible it is best to address the underlying cause, obviously there are some cases i.e. racing where this is not possible & the ulcers need to be managed

EMRT®  aids in gastrointestinal and nervous system balance, reducing stress in the horse physically & emotionially, which will aid in the management of gastric ulcers.