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  • Q:

    My 1,100-lb (500-kg) gelding was recently diagnosed with gastric ulcers. He spends all but a couple hours of his day outside and receives a ration consisting of 8 lb (3.6 kg) of a high-fat sweet feed, plenty of good-quality coastal hay, and some pasture. He’s on omeprazole therapy and will then be placed on a maintenance anti-ulcer product. I’d say his weight is just right, though I’d like to see more weight along his topline. Lately he’s had some scary colic flare-ups. I ride him for a couple hours most days, but nothing exertive, just walking and jogging. I would like to make sure his diet is not causing any problems with ulcers or colic.

  • A:

    Based on the information provided, his current ration sounds acceptable. A few additional recommendations may help him achieve more digestive comfort and long-term relief.

    At 8 lb (3.6 kg) of feed a day, splitting his concentrate into three meals a day to reduce overloading the digestive tract might help. Though a 4-lb (1.8-kg) meal isn’t generally considered a large grain meal, for your horse, it might be. When large grain meals are fed, some of the feed can escape digestion in the stomach and small intestine and flow to the hindgut, which is not designed for optimal starch digestion.

    A deluge of starch into the hindgut can cause volatile fatty acid and lactic acid levels to rise, which lowers the pH in the hindgut. Low pH decreases the efficiency of fiber-digesting bacteria. Changes in the pH and alterations in the microbial populations cause hindgut acidosis. High-grain diets are not the only cause of hindgut acidosis, as horses consuming fructan-rich grass can also be at risk. To address hindgut acidosis, Kentucky Equine Research (KER) developed a time-released hindgut buffer called EquiShure, which keeps the pH steady and the natural microbes healthy.

    Further, KER developed a specialized supplement called RiteTrac that contains ingredients to buffer both the stomach and hindgut for a balanced digestive environment. This product includes active ingredients needed to moderate the pH in the hindgut and maintain a healthy environment for the stomach to prevent ulcers. I recommend starting this product before you discontinue omeprazole because it will help reduce the risk of acid rebound. RiteTrac is available in the United States. Australian horse owners can use these digestive products.

    You may also try adding a few flakes of alfalfa (lucerne) hay to his ration. Because of its natural buffering capabilities, it will help protect the stomach. It sounds like your gelding has hay in front of him at all times, which is important to maintain digestive motility and to prevent ulcers. If he consumes hay quickly and is left without any for a while (longer than an hour or so), then I would get a slow-feed haynet to extend the time it takes to eat his hay.

    Finally, some horses are prone to colic when fed coastal hay. Though many, many horses do fine on this forage, it seems to cause gastrointestinal problems in others. It might be worthwhile to slowly switch to a different grass hay, as this could help with recurrent colic.

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