Would you believe my Thoroughbred Knight has ulcers again? This time they’re Grade 2 (not as severe as his previous case), so when Boehringer Ingelheim (formerly Merial), the maker of Ulcergard and Gastrogard reached out to collaborate on this sponsored post and an Ulcergard giveaway, I was thrilled!
(The Giveaway is now closed. Thank you to all who entered.)
I have used both Ulcergard and Gastrogard on Knight and they really work. What follows are tips on equine ulcer prevention that I gleaned from interviewing Dr. Hoyt Cheramie, Senior Veterinarian, Equine Professional Services Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, about all things equine gastric ulcer.
Dr. Cheramie and I talked for well over an hour so I am dividing this blog post into two parts so it’s easier to digest. (You’re welcome for the dorky pun.) This post contains affiliate links.
Even If Your Horse Doesn’t Have Ulcers, You Should Read This
If you think your horse doesn’t have ulcers, you could be wrong, like I was. And just because your horse doesn’t have ulcers now doesn’t mean he will remain ulcer-free.
As Dr. Cheramie said, our horses might not seem stressed, but just being a horse in a human’s world is stressful.
Think about it: in order for us to enjoy our equine partners, we’ve made them accommodate to our lifestyle–living in cities and suburbia, dwelling in a stall, eating at certain times of the day only, to name a few.
My first introduction to equine ulcers was when my sweet Knight had to be hospitalized for ten days due to mild, yet recurring colic.
Although I had heard of equine ulcers before, I had no clue that my horse had them. Until he was scoped at the hospital.
I didn’t think that Knight had them because he is for the most part a very calm horse. He is not crabby girthing up, his coat has always been quite shiny, and I don’t go to a ton of horse shows, so he’s basically a homebody. He was on the skinny side and hard to put weight on, but I thought that he was just being a typical Thoroughbred.
Little did I know these evil ulcers lurked in his belly. Poor guy!
Knight’s hospitalization was actually a blessing and turning point because with the help of my veterinarian, the veterinarian at the equine hospital, and my trainer, we were able to discover the ulcers, treat them, and make a few lifestyle changes to help him be healthier and happier. Here are some tips Dr. Cheramie shared to combat equine gastric ulcers.
1. Use a slow feed roughage feeder.
Free choice hay is good, but even better is to offer it in such a way that it takes your horse longer to eat the roughage by way of a slow feed haynet–the kind with the tiny holes like this one.
The idea is that horses are meant to be constantly grazing, but since that is not feasible for the majority of us (for example, where I live in Southern California, pastures are the exception, not the rule), we can attempt to simulate the all-day feeding by making them have to eat slower, over time.
2. Add a dash of alfalfa before exercise.
It’s okay, and actually a good idea to feed your horse alfalfa–Dr. Cheramie said about a half flake–right before exercise, as acid production increases during exercise.
Although I feel best if I don’t eat prior to a workout (I’ll never forget that awkward feeling in downward dog when I had spaghetti too close to the start of yoga class time!), our horses actually thrive by NOT having an empty stomach during exercise.
3. Select feed with care!
Dr. Cheramie said, “If you are currently feeding concentrate feeds containing high percentages of cereal grains and molasses, consider changing to a less ulcerogenic feed containing ingredients with lower non-structural carbohydrate levels. Recommended feeds contain feedstuffs such as alfalfa meal, highly digestible soy hulls, soybean meal, beet pulp, oil/fats, rice bran, etc. to make up for the calories lost by reducing/removing cereal grains.”
4. Feed smaller, more frequent meals.
Rather than fill up your horses’s bucket for one giant feeding, it’s best to give small amounts with frequency. I realize this can be hard if you are in a boarding situation and there is a morning and evening ration and you’re not really in charge of the meals.
However, consider reducing the morning and evening amounts your horse receives and when you are there (if you go consistently at a certain time) you can give a third feeding. For those of you who keep your horse at home, multiple small feedings might be a simple option.
5. Add in oil.
Back in the day my previous Thoroughbred got corn oil for a shiny coat. As it turns out, we may have been giving him ulcer prevention without even knowing it. According to Dr. Cheramie, there is research that suggests corn oil (often portrayed as unhealthy) may be helpful in management of ulcers.
“A study published in the Journal of Internal Veterinary Medicine demonstrated glandular mucosa protective effects of feeding a small amount corn oil (3 tablespoons – 45 ml). Other oils such as rapeseed/canola and flax seed oil are also recommended.”
6. Evaluate your horse’s stress and attempt to make a change.
For example, Dr. Cheramie stated if your horse is in a stall and you have the ability to turn it out more, do so. Right now I’m contemplating changing Knight’s stall from a box in which he has no contact with other horses to a larger pipe corral where he can touch noses with another gelding on one side. The pipe corral will give him a chance to be more social, which I think he will enjoy (but time will tell).
Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while might remember Knight started out in a large pipe corral and we determined her didn’t like it because it was on the end of the aisle and at the perimeter of all the rows. His new pipe corral will be in the middle of the aisle and in the middle of the rows. Hopefully he’ll feel safer in the “herd” rather than the outside/end horse responsible to keep watch for the herd.
7. If your horse is turned out in dry lot, give them some roughage for continual “grazing.”
Obviously turning a horse out in a pasture with grass is preferred, but if that’s not possible a dry lot with hay is the next best choice, according to Dr. Cheramie.
8. Encourage walking.
Horses are meant to always be on the move as they graze. When we put them in a stall that interrupts their natural tendency. If you have limited turnout availability like I do, even hand walking your horse is good for their psyche and gut.
I’ve tried to incorporate more walking into Knight’s routine. On days when I don’t ride because he is ridden by my trainer or turned out for a day off, I try to get to the barn in the evening to hand walk him and let him graze when we can find a few patches of grass near the wash racks.
9. Anticipate stressful situations and prevent ulcers with Ulcergard.
For being so big and strong, horses are actually delicate flowers. Situations we might not deem as stressful can cause horses to be upset and worry. Some of the stressful situations Dr. Cheramie cited were:
- not eating the exact same food they’re used to (like if your horse is away for training or at a show)
- being trailered for several hours
- when they’re being asked to work differently
- a change in their routine
A friend recently told me about a study she heard that tracked the health of performance horses taken on the road versus their barn mates who stayed behind. I would have thought most of the horses on the road developed ulcers and the stay behinds would be fine. Apparently some of the horse left at home developed ulcers because they were stressed because their herd mates were gone!!!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so the saying goes. Rather than treat your horse for severe ulcers (and a 10-day hospital stay like I did–sorry, Piggy Bank), it makes sense to anticipate situations that could produce anxiety and give your horse Ulcergard in advance.
One Important Thing Regarding Ulcergard for Equine Ulcer Prevention
In order to maximize Ulcergard’s effectiveness, you need to give your horse the dosage (it’s 1/4 of a tube) a couple of days prior to the stressful event. So if you are leaving for a horse show, the wrong time to give it is the morning you load your horse onto the trailer. You’d want to plan about 48 hours ahead of the travel time.
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Your Turn to Comment: What has been your experience with equine ulcers? Do you have any prevention tips to share or stories to tell about ulcers?