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Can stress cause ulcers in horses?

09 October 2019

With better diagnostic tools and techniques, ulcers are being more widely diagnosed. There are basically three types of stomach ulcers and horses can also get hind gut ulcers which are much harder to diagnose as they are out of reach of any endoscope.

  • Stomach ulcers can be squamous, which occur in the upper part of the stomach that is not protected against acid. These may be a result of working a horse on an empty stomach.
  • Mucosal or glandular ulcers occur in the lower part of the stomach and these are more associated with stress.
  • Pyloric ulcers occur near the pyloric valve, between the stomach and the first part of the small intestine. These are more likely when the horse has been fasted for several hours.

How to manage a horse with ulcers

Horses are easily stressed. Reduce stress as much as possible. Confinement (being stabled), isolation (no contact with other horses) and deprivation of forage (running out of hay overnight) are all stressors.

What we sometimes forget is that horses form strong bonds. They have best buddies, love their owners, enjoy their usual routine and regular friends and handlers. They grieve if their best buddy is sold or has to be put to sleep. They can take a year or more to settle into a new home. Horses evolved on the plains with lots of space, familiar friends and family with whom they spend their whole lives and constant access to forage, albeit a bit poor in the winter. We can't provide open access on a grassy plain, but we should be able to provide them with as much outside space as possible, companions with whom they can play and socialise and plenty of appropriate forage.

Be understanding about the impact of travelling, competitions, changing ownership, changing carers, changing riders, changing field buddies and accept that they are stressed by many more things than are we, but like us, stress can have physical as well as emotional consequences. Horses are sensitive creatures and consider that when your horse "misbehaves" she might just be trying to tell you something is not right.

Horses are individuals and respond in different ways to their management, feeding and medication. Maintain dialogue with your feed supplier, nutritionist and vet to get the best result for your individual horse.

Our Feed Line can offer suggestions based on the latest research. Fill out our Feeding Advice form or call us on 01728 604 008. Alternatively, you can see our best feeds for horses with ulcers here.

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