Now that the show season is at hand, owners’ are probably aware of their competitive partner’s risk for developing gastric ulcers. With two out of three performance horses affected, it’s important to ensure equine athletes are at peak health. But don’t forget about the horses that stay home. Even horses that don’t travel or compete are at risk for ulcers.
“Wherever there is stress, there can be stomach ulcers,” says Hoyt Cheramie, DVM, MS, manager of Merial Large Animal Veterinary Services. “Horses may be stressed by everyday situations that don’t seem stressful to us, like spending large amounts of time in a stall or when their friends leave the barn.”
He says some situations that can cause them include:
- Light training;
- Short-term travel;
- Change in routine;
- Change in feed schedule;
- Limited turnout or grazing;
- Lay-up due to sickness or injury; or
- Social regrouping.
Cheramie notes that removing horses from social groups could be one of the major contributing factors to an increased incidence of stomach ulcers in those left at home.
“Off-site training and showing can cause a disruption in social groupings and can be anxiety-provoking for some,” he says. “Horses form strong emotional bonds with their stable-mates so when they are separated, it can be very upsetting for both horses.”
Social grouping disruptions are also more common when spring arrives, as it often heralds a busy time for everyone, es
pecially those with broodmares. Foaling season means additional stress not only on mares and foals, but also for other horses, as well, due to increased activity in the barn at irregular hours.
Know the Signs of Ulcer Presence
“Stomach ulcers are prevalent across all breeds, disciplines, and ages,” Cheramie says, adding that they can develop in as litt
le as five days. “Because it is not so much the behavior but rather the change in behavior that signals the possibility of a physical problem, horse owners need to know what is normal for their horse and what is not.”
Watch out for clinical signs of ulcers, which include:
- Decreased appetite;
- Weight loss or poor body condition;
- Change in attitude for the worse;
- Recurrent colic;
- Dull hair coat; and
- Less-than-optimal (poor) performance, resistance to work, or difficulty training.