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Gastric Ulcers in Horses: UpdateBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 14, 2015

Ulcers or erosions in the lining of the equine stomach are reportedly a common condition in performance animals. In racehorses, for example, ulcers are believed to occur in an estimated 50-90% of horses. Similarly, weanling foals have equally high rates of ulcers. Stress caused by changes in routine is thought to be an important contributor to the development of gastric ulcers.

“While some gastric ulcers can go undetected and seem not to bother certain horses, other horses show a variety of clinical signs, including colic, diarrhea, poor appetite, dull coat, decreased performance, and even behavior changes,” said Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

The economic and widespread availability of omeprazole for both the prevention and treatment of gastric ulcers theoretically could decrease the occurrence of gastric ulcers in horses. This, however, does not appear to be the case.

“According to the most up-to-date consensus statement on gastric ulcers*, the development of ulcers appears to be most frequently reported in performance horses that are actively training or competing,” Crandell explained.

That study reported the following statistics:

  • Only 37% of untrained Thoroughbreds have ulcers, but that rate increases to 80-100% within 2-3 months of training;
  • About 44% of untrained Standardbred racehorses have ulcers, which increases to 87% during training/racing;
  • Only 48% of endurance horses have ulcers during the off-season; however, 66-93% develop ulcers during the competitive period;
  • Up to 58% of show/sport and pleasure horses have ulcers; and
  • Horses kept at home and that rarely compete only have a prevalence of 11%.

Therefore, despite the availability of FDA-approved omeprazole products for horses, gastric ulcers continue to plague the delicate lining of the equine stomach. This might partly be explained by the use of substandard omeprazole products. In fact, the FDA has issued letters of warnings to over a dozen companies to date because their ulcer medications did not meet the “strict standards for safety and effectiveness.” Experts advise only using clinically proven products.

“KER offers products to support gastrointestinal health, including RiteTrac. This product quickly neutralizes excessive gastric acid, protecting the stomach lining and restoring the normal gastric environment,” advises Crandell. Australian horse owners are advised to look for these research-proven gastrointestinal-support products.

*Sykes, B.W., M. Hewetson, R.J. Hepburn, et al. 2015. European College of Equine Internal Medicine Consensus Statement—Equine gastric ulcer syndrome in adult horses. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 29:1288-1299.