Is Your Horse At Risk Of Getting Ulcers? Syndromes & Best Treatments For Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) 2022

More than half of all foals1 and non-racing performance horses2 suffer from equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS). For racehorses, the numbers are even higher. Is your horse at risk?

Horses get ulcers when acid production overwhelms the stomach’s normal protective mechanisms. Inconsistent or low-roughage feeding, rigorous training schedules, stress due to travel, injury or isolation, and overuse of NSAIDs are all contributing factors.

Stress? What stress?

Stressful events include lengthy transport, surgery, race training, isolation and limited turnout, overuse of NSAIDs and improper feeding techniques.

  • Up to 93 percent of racehorses show signs of EGUS.
  • Between 40 and 60 percent of sport horses suffer ulcers.

Symptoms of EGUS

Equine gastric ulcer syndrome is a colic trigger, and recurrent colics are a symptom of the condition. Other common symptoms of EGUS in horses include poor appetite and condition, decreased manure production, weight loss, dull or rough hair coat and low-grade, acute or frequent colic. Your horse may be a little pissy, too. Wouldn’t you be?

In foals, look for intermittent colic, a pot-bellied appearance, poor condition, diarrhea, teeth grinding or excess salivation.

Equine gastroscopy is the most definitive method for diagnosing equine gastric ulcer syndrome, although a new fecal blood test is available to help diagnose equine gastric problems including EGUS.

Diagnosing EGUS

To make a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian may use a gastroscope. A gastroscope is a long endoscope, a device with a camera on the end that allows your vet to see a close-up view of the stomach lining. Your horse will be unhappy to learn that a gastroscope is inserted through his nostrils. It is not painful, but it’s not exactly great either, so your veterinarian will probably tranquilize your horse before the procedure. A gastroscopy takes about 20 minutes.

There is a fecal blood test now available. According to its manufacturers, the results of a Succeed FBT® reveal “…occult fecal blood from anywhere along the GI tract, distinguishing foregut from hindgut sources.” If your horse is suffering from a bleeding ulcer — but be aware that not all ulcers bleed — this test is a convenient step towards diagnosis and treatment.

To treat equine gastric ulcer syndrome, reduce the amount of acid being produced, physically coat the stomach to protect it from acid and/or buffer the acid that is being produced. 

Treatment of EGUS

The best treatment for equine gastric ulcer syndrome is a natural, grazing lifestyle…all pasture, all the time. But this is not practical or possible in many cases so horse owner turn to medications.

Equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) affects a large number of horses. EGUS is associated with stress and symptoms can develop within 5 days of a stressful event. 

  • Proton Pump Inhibitors

Proton pumps are the mechanism responsible for the product of acid that forms in the stomach. They are the final step in a long process that causes ulcers. Proton pump inhibitors prevent these cellular pumps from doing their dastardly deed. Omedprazole, the equine version of Prilosec, is sold under the brand name Gastrogard®. Gastrogard® is approved by the FDA as a treatment for EGUS. It is easy to feed and given once a day. It is the most popular treatment for EGUS.

  • H2 Blockers

Histamines are secreted by body tissue and stimulate the stomach cells to produce acid. H2 blockers block the production of histamine, slowing the rate of acid production. Cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac) and famotidine (Pepcid AC) are H2 blockers.

  • Antacids

Antacids neutralize stomach acid that has already been produced.

1 Murray MJ. Endoscopic appearance of gastric lesions in foals: 94 cases (98701988) JAVMA 1989

2 Mitchell RD. Prevalence of gastric ulcers in hunter/jumper and dressage horses evaluated for poor performance. Association for Equine Sport Medicine, September 2001


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