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Managing and Reducing the Risk of Gastric Ulcers Through Diet

Gastric ulcers are painful sores in the stomach lining that often result from stress, high-starch diets, and limited forage consumption. While medical intervention is often required, a commonly overlooked aspect of managing and reducing the risk of gastric ulcers is through a carefully curated diet. 

The Importance of Forage in Reducing the Risk of Gastric Ulcers

One of the ways to reduce the risk of gastric ulcers is by ensuring an adequate supply of forage in a horse’s diet. Forage, such as hay or pasture, provides a natural buffer that helps neutralise stomach acid. Horses are grazing animals by nature, and their digestive systems are designed for continuous forage consumption. Limiting access to forage, relying too heavily on high starch concentrates, or prolonged periods of fasting can increase acidity in the stomach, increasing the risk of gastric ulcers. 

Forage should ideally be provided on an ad-lib basis (to appetite), but for good doers or overweight horses whose intake may need to be limited,  consider implementing slow feeding strategies to help make the forage last longer. Slow-feed hay nets or using a grazing muzzle can help simulate natural grazing behaviour whilst also helping to keep calorie intake down. 

Balancing the Diet with Adequate Roughage and Fibre

In addition to making sure that your horse has an ample supply of forage, the type of forage chosen is crucial. Forage is high in fibre and takes longer to chew, which is beneficial for promoting saliva production. Saliva contains bicarbonate which acts as a natural antacid in the stomach. Chopped alfalfa can also be added, as this is known for its high calcium content, which can further help to neutralise stomach acid. 

Incorporating high fibre ingredients to your horse’s bucket feed, such as beet pulp, can further enhance the fibre content in a horse’s diet. These types of feed contribute to overall gut health and provide a slow-release energy source, reducing reliance on high-starch concentrates. Avoiding excessive grain-based diets is crucial, as a high starch content can increase acid production in the stomach, contributing to ulcer development.

Ensuring Consistent Meal Timing and Frequency

Consistency in meal timing and frequency plays a vital role in managing gastric ulcers. Horses thrive on routine, and irregular feeding patterns can increase stress levels, a known precursor to ulcer development. Establish a regular feeding schedule with multiple small meals throughout the day, mimicking the natural grazing behaviour of horses in the wild. This approach helps maintain a more stable stomach environment, reducing the likelihood of acid build-up.

Consider the timing of meals around exercise. Offering a small fibre feed prior to physical activity can help to line the stomach and reduce acid splash.  This pre-exercise feeding can be particularly beneficial in reducing the risk of ulcers in performance horses, where the stress of training and competition can be significant.

Hydration and its Role in Gastric Health

Adequate hydration is fundamental for overall equine health. Furthermore, it may also plays a role in reducing the risk of gastric ulcers by potentially helping to dilute stomach acid as well as promoting gut motility. Ensure access to clean, fresh water at all times, and consider wetting the horse’s feed to increase water consumption. 

Maintaining the right balance of electrolytes is essential for optimal hydration. For horses in harder levels of work or those who are exercising enough to sweat, a specific electrolyte supplement should be used. This proactive approach is important for supporting hydration. 

Managing and reducing the risk of gastric ulcers in horses involves a multifaceted approach, with diet playing a pivotal role. By prioritising forage, balancing the diet with adequate roughage and fibre, keeping starch intakes low, ensuring consistent meal timing, and promoting hydration, horse owners can take significant strides in maintaining gastric health. 

While the dietary strategies mentioned here are valuable, it’s crucial to work closely with an equine nutritionist to develop a comprehensive plan that is tailored to your individual horse’s needs. By using an approach that includes both dietary considerations and veterinary guidance, you can strive to enhance the well-being and longevity of your equine companions. 


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