Horse-canada.com - Full Article
Written by: Nicole Kitchener & Dr. Bri Henderson
Recognizing and treating gastric and colonic ulcers.
Horses have a digestive system designed to manage a slow, steady intake of small amounts of forage. When this inherent grazing behaviour is disrupted by changes to diet, environment and other stressors – mainly by the actions of humans – horses often suffer digestive problems, one of the most common being ulcers. Ulcers are essentially intestinal sores that won’t heal. Two types affect the horse’s gastrointestinal system: gastric ulcers are lesions in the stomach wall, while colonic ulcers form in the hindgut, specifically, as the name suggests, in the colon. Horses can suffer from both simultaneously, but gastric ulcers occur more regularly.
EQUINE GASTRIC ULCERS
A horse’s stomach is small and comprised of two halves. The lower stomach, which is called the glandular mucosa, consists of a thick protective lining and glands that continuously produce large amounts of digestive acid (about 1.5 litres an hour) to help digest what is, by nature, supposed to be a perpetual intake of chewed forage. The upper stomach, the squamous mucosa, has a thinner lining and minimal protection from stomach acid. This is where most gastric ulcers form.
Although any horse, no matter their breed, age, sex or level of exercise, can have ulcers, performance animals are particularly prone. This is because stress of any type – due to transport, changes to routine, stall confinement, for example – is the main risk factor in ulcer development. Studies even show that stress from strenuous exercise itself not only increases the production of stomach acid but movement causes the acid to splash up into the vulnerable upper stomach.
Twice-a-day feeding schedules and limited grazing are also problematic. Because the lower stomach still produces acid even when the horse isn’t eating, prolonged periods without saliva, which is the upper stomach’s only buffer against acid, cause irritation and potentially ulcers...
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