Nowadays, ulcers are the hot topic with an increasing number of horses and ponies being diagnosed with ulcers. It’s not just performance horses that are prone to ulcers; horses that work at a lower level, such as happy hackers and companion ponies, are still at risk of ulcers. From ensuring that your horse is given plenty of fibre-based horse feed, as opposed to cereals, to feeding before exercise, we have compiled some feeding tips for horses prone to ulcers, below.
What Causes Gastric Ulcers?
Gastric ulcers can be a result of prolonged exposure of the stomach lining to gastric juices. This results in ulceration and even bleeding in some cases. The stomach can be divided into two sections; the lower glandular region where the hydrochloric acid is produced and the upper non-glandular region where the food enters the stomach. Despite the lower region of the stomach being constantly exposed to acid, it tends to have adequate protection, so is less likely to form ulcers, compared to the upper region.
Nutritional Management Tips For Ulcers
If your horse has been diagnosed with gastric ulcers, alongside medication prescribed by your vet, these feeding tips will help you to manage their diet. One of the most important pieces of advice is to feed horses less non-structural carbohydrates and increase the amount of fibre they are consuming. For horses in work, or those struggling to maintain their condition, feeding sugar beet that is free from molasses is one way to achieve this. Sugar beet is a very digestible source of fibre and has a calorie level similar to oats, but without the high starch content.
It’s important to feed lots of forage to your horse, especially if they are prone to ulcers. Forage increases their chew time and saliva production which ultimately helps to regulate the levels of acidity in the horse’s stomach. If you have a companion pony or a good doer that doesn’t need to gain weight, you can use low-calorie forages allowing them to have the extended chew time, without putting on weight.
Horses are trickle feeders meaning that they eat almost continuously in their natural environment. We should try to replicate this by feeding ad lib or little and often where horses can’t have ad lib feed. This should help to reduce the time that their stomach is empty which promotes good gut health.
Cereal based concentrates tend to increase the acidity levels in the digestive system. Therefore, try to avoid these feeds as much as possible by using digestible fibre sources, such as alfalfa with added oil. Not only does this source of fibre meet the energy requirements of your horse, but the alfalfa works better as a buffer to acidity due to its calcium and protein content.
About 20 minutes before exercising, feed a small amount of chopped fibre to help stop the contents of the stomach splashing around when the horse moves. This tip is particularly useful for horses jumping or exercising at speed, such as racehorses and competition horses. Additionally, it has been shown that giving horses rest periods away from intense exercise or very stressful situations can help reduce the risk of ulcers.
Hopefully these top feeding tips will help you to manage the diet of a horse with gastric ulcers. If you require further information, speak to your vet or an equine nutritionist, who will be able to provide you with guidance on the best feeding routine and diet for your horse.