What is Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome?
Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome describes the erosion of the horse's stomach lining, due to prolonged exposure to the acid produced by the stomach. There is now more evidence that Gastric Ulcers is much more common in horses than first thought and research has found that up to 93% of thoroughbred racehorses in training suffer from gastric ulcers.
Also similar studies have shown an incidence of nearly 60% in both performance horses and foals.
A Four Point scoring system has been developed by vets to help classify the severity of equine ulcers, in which grades 2 or above are considered clinically significant.
Stomach lining is intact and there is no appearance of reddening
Stomach lining is intact but there are areas of reddening
The stomach has now got small single or multiple ulcers
The stomach has now got large single or multiple ulcers
The stomach has extensive ulcers: often merge to give areas of deep ulceration
The clinical signs shown by horses and foals suffering from equine gastric ulcer syndrome are not specific since they can be associated with other diseases. This table below lists some of the common clinical signs, which can be associated with EGUS. Its likely that many horses will show reduced performance due to the presence of gastric ulcers, a very significant factor in race and performance horses.
Adult Horses Foals
Poor Performance Pot Bellied
Poor Appetite Diarrhea
Behavioral changes Poor Coats
Dull Poor Growth
Poor Coats Salivation
Weight Loss Teeth Grinding
Colic Lying on Back
The main causes of EGUS are associated with stress, which can be as a result of a number of management practices:
Feeding - when in training horses are generally fed low fibre diets containing a high content of concentrate foods. The horse evolved to browse on high fibre herbage based on grasses and herbs and to do so for many hours each day. Many horses training are given two or three large feeds daily with only limited access to roughage.
Training - Horses evolved to keep on the move constantly and even have additional ligaments on certain joints so that they can sleep standing up. Horses in training are only given limited exercise daily.
Transport - Race and Competition horses are frequently transported long distances, which can result in stress leading to gastric ulcers.
Stable Management - Certain practices can lead to stressful situations resulting in stable vices such as crib biting, wind sucking, weaving and stable walking.
Medication - A number of drugs can produce gastric ulcers, probably the most well known are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as phenylbutazone (bute).
Associated Diseases - Certain debilitating diseases can lead to the formation of gastric ulcers.
Although the clinical symptoms associated with gastric ulcers are helpful they are not specific and therefore can only be taken as suggestive requiring further investigation to confirm their existence. Similarly the response to treatment can also be an indicator that gastric ulcers may have been the cause of presenting symptoms.
Aloe Vera Gel has been shown to help prevent and heal gastric ulcers in a number of species. In all species where it is not possible to remove the cause, daily administration is required. To help prevent the occurence of gastric ulcers in horses it is recommended that they are given 120mls daily. In confirmed cases this should be increased to 250mls daily for Grade 1, 500mls for Grade 2 and 1 litre for Grade 3. In cases of confirmed Grade 2 and 3 it would be advisable initially to combine a product such as GastroGard with the Gel until healing is complete. The horse should then be maintained permanently on 120mls Aloe Vera Gel daily to prevent recurrence.
The Aloe Gel will also give additional benefits for the horse such as improving the immune system, better hooves and coats as well as helping with any skin problems.
Its not only economical to use but also it contains no substances which are prohibited under the rules of racing. It therefore can be given to the horse permanently, which is very different from the situation when drugs are used.
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