How to feed a horse with Ulcers
“My dressage horse isn’t his usual self. He’s been girthy, hates having his rugs on, fidgets when I tack him up, is fussy about having his feet picked out with his saddle on, has started moving away when I try to get on and is reluctant to go off my leg as much as he was. All of these signs make me think he might have gastric ulcers so the vet is coming out to check him over and confirm if this is the case…”
Sound familiar? It’s one of the most common questions we are often asked – How should I feed my hard-working competition horse if he’s been diagnosed with gastric ulcers?
Photo of stomach ulcers – nasty!
If your vet does confirm your horse has ulcers, we can’t stress enough that he firstly MUST be medically treated to heal and clear them up. However, as ulcers can be caused by many factors it’s important to address all the potential management factors you can, one of the most important being nutrition and nutritional management and it’s vital to get this right if you want to avoid reoccurrence. It’s a fact that squamous type ulcers (those found in the upper portion of the stomach and the most commonly diagnosed in Thoroughbreds), have a 70% chance of reoccurring if a consistent treatment isn’t undertaken. Whatever treatment path you go down, keep it up for at least 2-3 months, and get a scoping to check the healing progress. I know it’s a bore – yes, it hurts the pocket, but it will hurt even more if you aren’t consistent and the ulcers never clear up!
An ulcer diagnosis often means that your horse really shouldn’t be fed any grain/cereal hard feeds and other sweet feeds which can be too acidic and irritate ulcers further, but this needn’t be the end of the world if your horse is in hard work.
The tips below will help manage and reduce the risk of the ulcers re-occurring:
- Feed as much fibre/forage as possible at a minimum of 1.5% of bodyweight (dry matter) per day.
- Avoid prolonged periods without forage.
- Avoid stalky forage being the sole or predominant forage source.
- If extra energy is needed look for feeds that have restricted starch and sugar levels and added oil rather than cereals.
- Aim to feed < 1g/kg bodyweight of non-structural carbohydrate (NSC: starch plus water soluble carbohydrate) per meal and preferably try to spread meals across the day- multiple small meals are better than one or two large ones.
- Add chopped fibre to every meal – especially Lucerne which has been shown to help buffer gastric acid.
- Avoid very stalky, sharp chopped fibre which can increase the risk of damage to the stomach wall.
- Provide a small chopped, fibre based meal or access to forage before exercise to reduce gastric acid splashing up onto the sensitive, unprotected upper non-glandular part of the stomach.
- Turn out to pasture as much as possible.
- Provide access to water at all times.
- Avoid using electrolyte pastes.
- Provide some form of forage while travelling.
If your horse is working hard, yes, he will need additional energy to help maintain his condition. You can try a high fibre, low starch cube, beet pulp which also maintains condition as well as providing energy, or a high omega 3 essential fatty acid oil such as cold pressed linseed. Avoid oils/fats that are high in Omega 6 which are pro-inflammatory. Eg ricebran, canola, copra.
A Fibregenix balancer which boosts essential nutrient intake and maximizes fibre digestion will also enable you to limit the need for large amounts of hard feed.
Never underestimate the amount of work that a horse can do on a high fibre diet, and once ulcers are cleared and ongoing preventative management continues, it may be possible to reintroduce small quantities of grain feed supplemented alongside the Fibregenix balancer.
Speak to/email our equine Nutrition consultant Anita for a friendly chat for an ulcer prevention strategy and a diet review, we are here to help you: firstname.lastname@example.org