Monday, Jun. 3, 2024

Gastric Ulcers and the Performance Horse

Gastric ulcers occur in up to 90 percent of performance horses for a number of reasons.  The leading causes are the stomach’s exposure to excessive acid levels, a reduction in the natural protection of the stomach’s lining, or both.  Most equine ulcers occur in the upper portion of the stomach near the esophagus, where feed enters the stomach.  Under normal circumstances, these cells in the stomach are protected from excess acid by the production of the horse’s saliva.
 

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Gastric ulcers occur in up to 90 percent of performance horses for a number of reasons.  The leading causes are the stomach’s exposure to excessive acid levels, a reduction in the natural protection of the stomach’s lining, or both.  Most equine ulcers occur in the upper portion of the stomach near the esophagus, where feed enters the stomach.  Under normal circumstances, these cells in the stomach are protected from excess acid by the production of the horse’s saliva.
 
Horses are naturally wandering, grazing animals with a digestive tract that is well adapted for a steady, continual diet of forage by the secretion of gastric acid steadily throughout the day, whether feeding or not.  When saliva is produced in adequate amounts, it buffers and coats the lining of the stomach, protecting it from gastric acid.
 
Many horses develop ulcers with no obvious symptoms, however, once a gastric ulcer is formed, the stomach tissue becomes damaged and inflamed causing depressed appetite, irritability, colic problems, diminished performance, weight loss, chronic pain or discomfort for the horse, and can become a serious condition. The only way to know for certain if a gastric ulcer is present is through an endoscopic examination.
 
Modern feeding techniques can contribute in part to the high incidence of ulcers.  High grain diets can contribute to excessive stomach acid release, and periods of fasting expose the horse’s stomach to gastric acid.  For performance horses, diets high in grain are common, as are prolonged periods of fasting, especially before training.  In addition, during heavy training the protective benefit of saliva is reduced and stress is intensified by the training,combining to further increase the stomach tissue’s exposure to gastric acid.
 
In contrast, pasture fed horses rarely develop stomach ulcers.  A steady diet of forage allows for continuous eating to match the steady release of stomach acid, and also tends to increase the production of the stomach-protecting saliva.  Grain fed horses produce less protective saliva, and both grain and pellet concentrates can increase stomach acid release.
 
There are several ways to manage an ulcer-prone horse.  Putting a horse on pasture is effective, but not always practical, especially during performance or heavy training seasons.  From a nutritional perspective, supplying extra digestive support, improving stress response and reducing gut inflammation are vital to managing stomach acid reactions and preventing them in the future.  Balanced, natural, non-toxic products can aid in the health of the digestive tract.

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Specially processed rice bran extractives can offer an anti-inflammatory benefit and buffer stomach acid.
DGL, a form of licorice, has potent anti-inflammatory effects and aids in the healing of gastric tissue.
Sodium-copper chlorophyllins are very soothing to the digestive tract and can support tissue healing.
Plant polysaccharide complexes can be good buffering agents, and reduce the acid load.
Benefical lactobacillus bacteria helps maintain a healthy digestive tract during inflammation.
Magnesium silicate can act as a buffering agent, reduce the effects of excess stomach acid, and is helpful to digestive tract healing.
 
Jack Grogan, Certified Nutritionist and VP of Research and Development for Uckele Health & Nutrition, has studied extensively in the fields of biology, biochemistry and nutrition, is an expert in tissue mineral balancing, and has experienced great success in balancing equine mineral chemistry to strengthen the basic metabolism and improve efficiency in horses.
 
Uckele Health & Nutrition is a Michigan-based, family owned business that has built a reputation over four decades formulating and manufacturing nutritional products, also providing private labeling and custom manufacturing for many other companies and organizations worldwide.  

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