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What causes gastric discomfort in horses and what are the symptoms?

Research shows that gastric discomfort can result from the constant acid secretion, high grains diets, chronic stall confinement and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Unlike ulcers in humans, bacteria do not appear to cause equine gastric ulcers.

Why do horses experience gastric discomfort?

Horses are designed to be grazers with regular intake of roughage. Since the horse’s stomach continually secretes acid, gastric ulcers can result when the horse is not eating regularly due to there being less feed to neutralize the acid. Additionally, high-grain diets produce volatile fatty acids that can contribute to the development of ulcers.

The horse’s stomach is divided into two regions, the squamous and glandular mucosa. The glandular portion secretes acid, and has a protective coating to keep it from being damaged by the acid. Ulcers can occur in the glandular portion of the stomach, but this is less common. The top portion of the stomach is designed for mixing of the contents of the stomach and does not have as much protection from the acid. This is the most common place to find gastric ulcers.

What are the common symptoms of gastric discomfort in horses?

The majority of horses with gastric ulcers do not show outward symptoms.

They have more subtle symptoms, such as a poor appetite, poor hair coat, and frequent stretching as if to urinate.

The effect on performance is not well understood. Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses with poor performance have a higher incidence of squamous gastric ulcers.

More serious cases will show abdominal pain (colic) and/or bruxism (grinding the teeth). The only way to definitively diagnose ulcers is through gastroscopy.

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