DrKerryRidgway.com - Full Article
Kerry J. Ridgway, DVM
Institute for Equine Therapeutic Options
Ulcers in the digestive track are more than just the latest “disease du jour.” Thus far, for a problem that has been recognized for about 20 years, we are still seeing and understanding only the tip of a metaphorical iceberg. More than two thirds of the iceberg is still not visible and much is still being discovered about this ulcer “iceberg.” We do know that there are, basically, only two kinds of horses – those who have ulcers and those who will have ulcers!
We should all recognize that gastric and intestinal ulcers are literally a slow or non-healing acid burn - a burn such as if hydrochloric acid was splashed on your face. The horse’s ulcers are a combination of this hydrochloric acid, as well as volatile fatty acids and bile acids. In horses, the acid burns holes into the lining of the stomach, small or large bowel. The acids may burn a crater deeply enough to cause bleeding or even burn through and penetrate the gut. When the acid burn craters do heal they can create scar tissue and strictures, especially in the small intestine that may lead to colic.
Therefore, the real purpose of this paper is three fold.
The first purpose is to provide a short synopsis regarding the dangers and sometimes-dire consequences of ulcers.
The second is to alert you to the signs and symptoms pointing to the presence of ulcers.
The third, and a very important purpose: Empower you to use a simple examination technique that can give a very strong presumptive diagnosis of GI ulcers. This technique can, in many cases, bypass the need for endoscopic examination if, for example, this procedure is not readily available or is not affordable. Confirmation by administration of appropriate medications is often used as a diagnostic tool and confirmation of a “presumptive” diagnosis.
Twelve Good Reasons to Understand GI Ulcers in Horses:
1. Ulcers increase the risk to the horse’s health, safety and welfare
2. Ulcers increase the risk to the rider’s safety and welfare
3. Ulcers cause loss of performance and competitive edge
4. Ulcers can upset or interrupt an entire competition schedule
5. Ulcers are very expensive to treat and to resolve – recurrence is common
6. Ulcers cause many “behavioral” problems
7. Ulcers set up many muscle, myofascial and chiropractic issues
8. Ulcers increase risk of injury and lameness as a result of number seven (Musculo-skeletal problems
9. Ulcers increase the risk of colic and diarrhea problems
10. Ulcer stress may deplete the immune system and make a horse more susceptible to disease
11. Ulcers often create “hard keepers” and cause weight loss. The result – an unthrifty horse. (However, some horses with excellent weight also have ulcers)
12. Toxins released from altered gut flora increase a risk of laminitis/founder
When horses develop painful and restricted movement associated with excess muscle tension, and poor ability to use the spine – resulting in pain - they cannot perform at the desired level. They are, thus, more prone to injury if pushed to jump higher, run faster, suddenly change direction, etc. In the case of cross country eventing, show jumping, racing, cutting, gymkhana, marathon competitive driving and other high performance demands, the risk of injury is greatly increased. A body in pain is always at risk and increases the likelihood of a fall. Needless to say a fall is always potentially dangerous for both horse and rider.
Next, it is appropriate to review the signs and symptoms associated with ulcers. Many of these the reader may already be familiar with. Others are less well known, but may serve even better to make one aware that a horse may be experiencing ulcer pain...
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