Stomach ulcers are very common in horses and can cause a variety of symptoms including behavior changes, resentment to tightening girth, performance issues under saddle, decreased appetite, poor body condition, and colic. While traditionally it was thought that ulcers were a disease of racehorses or highly stressed animals, modern advances in our ability to diagnose this disease have shown that they can appear in any horse at any time, regardless of the animal’s age, job, or environment. While certain risk factors include travel, showing, prolonged stall rest, stressful experiences, low forage, and water intake, and frequent use of some medications such as Bute or Banamine, we have also diagnosed severe ulcers in calm horses living alone on private property and enjoying a peaceful retirement. For this reason, we recommend that any horse showing signs of ulcers have an evaluation by one of our EquidDoc veterinarians.
The only way to diagnose that your horse has ulcers is through gastroscopy, or a scope of the stomach, where a tiny camera is passed up the nose of the horse, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. This procedure is generally well-tolerated and is done on the farm with the horse using standing sedation. The scope allows us to view all major parts of the horse’s stomach and look for ulcers, as well as other problems such as irritation, parasites, tumors, or feed impactions.
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Thankfully if irritation or ulcers are found within the stomach the treatment is both easy to administer and effective. While some mild ulcers may heal within a couple of weeks, some ulcers are very stubborn and can take several months to heal. For this reason, EquidDoc recommends a recheck scope one month into treatment to ensure that all ulcers have healed, and treatment can be safely stopped.
If you have noticed any of the symptoms listed above, or are worried that your horse might have ulcers, please call EquidDoc Veterinary Services at (508) 885-4205 to schedule your horse’s stomach scope today!