Stomach ulcers in horses: causes, symptoms and care

Stomach Ulcers in Horses: causes, symptoms and care


Stomach ulcers in horses are common and have significant implications for their well-being. A comprehensive understanding of this condition is essential for horse owners, riders, and grooms.


Stomach ulcers in horses result from damage to the gastric mucosa which can have various causes. One of these causes is restricted access to food. In the wild, horses graze on small amounts of food regularly, and prolonged periods without food can lead to gastric mucosa damage. Stress is another significant factor in the development of stomach ulcers. Stressors such as intense training, transportation, participation in competitions, and changes in the environment can contribute to ulcer development. Lastly, diet can also play a role, especially diets high in grains and low in fiber, as they increase stomach acid production and the risk of ulcers.


Recognizing symptoms is crucial. Horses with stomach ulcers often have reduced appetite, resulting in weight loss. Additionally, behavioral changes may occur, such as restlessness, nervousness, and irritability, indicating discomfort. A dull coat is another symptom that may suggest potential gastric issues. Some horses may display signs of abdominal pain, such as kicking, rolling, or excessive licking. Sport horses often have  a decrease in performance,  as they cannot maintain their usual level due to discomfort.


The definitive diagnosis of stomach ulcers is usually made through gastroscopy. This procedure involves inserting a flexible tube with a camera into the horse’s stomach to inspect the interior. It is performed while the horse is standing under light sedation and provides crucial information to allow for proper treatment.


Fortunately, there are ways to prevent stomach ulcers in horses. Regular feeding is essential. Ensure your horse has regular access to food and divide daily feedings into multiple small meals. Stress management also plays a significant role. Minimize stress factors in your horse’s life, such as varied training and a calm environment. Dietary adjustments are another preventive measure. Provide a balanced diet with sufficient fiber and reduce the amount of grain in the feed.


In cases of severe stomach ulcers, medication is often necessary. The most common medications are the proton pump inhibitor omeprazole and the gastric wall protector sucralfate.

The importance of nutritional supplements in prevention and treatment

In addition to medication and dietary adjustments, nutritional supplements can play a valuable role in preventing and treating stomach ulcers in horses. Gastric protectants form a protective layer on the gastric mucosa to prevent damage from stomach acid. Pre- and probiotics support intestinal health and digestion, which can aid in preventing stomach ulcers. Certain herbs and plant supplements have anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that reduce stomach irritation. These supplements have a role in the prevention of gastric ulcers, treatment of milder forms of stomach ulcers, and as follow-up after a course of gastric ulcer medication.


Stomach ulcers in horses are a serious condition that require attention. Increased awareness of this issue can improve both the well-being and performance of your horse.

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