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Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Managing a Horse that Has Previously Suffered with Equine Gastric Ulcers


The first thing to declare with this post is that it is all based entirely on my experience, and not on veterinary knowledge. It is therefore just one way to consider managing a horse that can be prone to equine gastric ulcers and is NOT the only way.

The next crucial declaration is that to my knowledge Louie's gastric ulcers were not the result of a stressful situation, or at least that was mine & the vet's conclusion. Instead, the conclusion was that as he was diagnosed in February, the more probable cause was a lower intake of grass, therefore a less 'full' stomach and an opportunity for the acid to come into contact with the lining of his stomach.

We published a blog post all about our story of equine gastric ulcers when Louie was first diagnosed if you've not seen it and want some context.

So what does that mean for my management of Louie's equine gastric ulcers?


For me, I think we've got a much easier situation than owners who are battling with ulcers as a result of stress because my management is all about keeping Louie's tummy as full as possible. That results in three main things:

  1. Access to ad-lib haylage (although hay would be better)
  2. When grass length is very low, giving him a feed full of fibre when he comes in from the field
  3. Giving him a good portion of AlfaA before riding, travelling or while away at competitions
The management of Louie's ulcers is all about making sure that the level of contents in Louie's stomach doesn't drop beneath the main stomach lining level. You can see in the photo below that there is a distinct ulceration mark at the very entrance to the stomach, indicating that it has been exposed to acid and not protected by a food substance. 



Louie has received treatment for his ulcers back in February and scoped clear at the front of the stomach upon re-scoping four weeks later. The ulcers at the back of the stomach took a little longer, but the vet was happy with him after a further four weeks of medication & a third scoping. 

Over the summer, it's been very easy to manage Louie. He's a little piglet and literally eats as much grass as he can fit in his stomach. He has lived out from May until the very end of September, and when coming in to be worked, he was full and won't remotely interested in his haylage or chaff/AlfaA buckets. In fact, unless it was the rustle of a Silvermoor treatsie bag, he was interested in very little! 

Now that he is back to being stabled overnight, I need to consider my management of his stomach over the winter to PREVENT any gastric ulcers returning. 

We've been quite lucky with warmer temperatures in October, so there's still plenty of grass in Louie's fields. But over the last week or so, we've had so much rain, overnight temperatures under five degrees, and a cold icy breeze, so the long grass won't be around for too much longer.

Over the summer and to help manage Louie's weight, I switched from AlfaA Oil to Top Chop Lite from TopSpec. It smells of a wonderful peppermint, but unless it's in his tea, Louie isn't interest in a dampened bucket full... So I've swapped back to AlfaA Oil. It will hopefully not only encourage him to eat it by the scoop full on its own but will also promote good weight and condition maintenance throughout the winter.

As the grass begins to disappear this month, Louie will start to have a full scoop of AlfaA Oil when he comes in from the field, even though he will have access to haylage. Alfalfa is reported to be a great acid neutraliser, and AlfaA Oil specifically has added protein (for condition promotion) which added extra alkaline to the stomach to also neutralise any acid. 


He will also get a scoop of it before travelling as he doesn't really touch his haynet when travelling, only when we get to where we are going, as well as for the return journey. Depending on when he's had his scoop when coming in from the field and how far we are travelling, he may just have one and then another when we arrive at our destination. 

Louie's also fortunate to be on a yard that allows ad-lib haylage. I don't think anyone ever believes me when I say how many haynets he can go through overnight...He used to be fed from the floor, which meant he dragged his haylage all through the straw bed, which drove the yard owner nuts. This winter I've added a haybar as I really don't like feed from haynets as a permanent thing. He's just started to nudge and dig in it, but hopefully, it was just a one-off and he won't continue all winter. I really can't bare the thought of battling about why he needs constant access to haylage for his stomach, even if it does go in his bed!

I'm heading into winter, fairly confident that with the correct management for Louie, we'll be able to prevent a re-occurrence come the much colder weather that's usually upon us in the first few months of the year.

To anyone who suspects your horse could have equine gastric ulcers, please do go and have them scoped. Many people put it off because of a stigma attached to its diagnosis. Years ago there were one or two vets that had the capability to perform a scoping so it was a HUGE thing just to get the diagnosis. Then, if you were able to get that diagnosis, it was a nightmare to treat as the medicines just weren't available as they are today. 


In my experience, taking Louie to the vets, leaving him overnight, paying approx £200-250 for the scoping and confirming that he had ulcerations in his stomach was worth it. He is insured so all of his treatment was covered and eight weeks later we were out of the other side. 

More severe cases can take longer and need much more effort to recover from or prevent getting any worse, especially when stress is an underlying trigger. But please, don't put it off.

The symptoms your horse shows are because he/she is in pain. No one wants to see them suffer so just go and have it checked out, and in fact, many practices will offer the scoping free of charge during some periods and only charge for the treatment. No matter what you discover, no matter how bad it turns out to be, once you know what you're dealing with you can help them to be more comfortable, hopefully recover fully and at look to prevent further damage or re-occurrence. 



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