Gastric ulcers are remarkably common in horses, especially in performance horses and racehorses. While these ulcers can be treated very easily with medications, this can be expensive – and if the underlying problems aren't fixed, ulcers may return. It's best to try to prevent ulcers from forming in the first place.
What Causes Ulcers To Form?
Horses have rather unique stomachs; compared to their body size, they are relatively small, and they are divided into two parts. The upper part of the stomach is similar in some ways to the esophagus, and it does not have the same protection against acid as the lower part of the stomach. This lower part is where acid is produced to digest food. Ulcers usually form when acid from the lower part of the stomach gets into the upper part of the stomach, irritating the lining.
What Causes Acid To Get Into The Upper Region Of The Stomach?
Unlike humans, whose stomachs produce acid in response to eating, horses evolved to forage continually, and their stomachs are constantly producing acid. Low amounts of roughage in the diet also can be a problem; by requiring less chewing, this sort of diet reduces the amount of saliva a horse produces, and saliva is necessary to neutralize stomach acids.
How Can Feed Prevent Ulcers?
Feeding schedule can have a big impact on ulcer risk. Since horses evolved to eat frequently throughout the day, it's not a good idea to fast a horse. An empty stomach is more prone to damage from stomach acid as more acid builds up without food to buffer it.
Fasting doesn't just mean more acid in the stomach – it also means stronger acid. The acid in an empty stomach can have a very low pH level – meaning it is highly acidic. The more frequently a horse eats and the more roughage it eats, the more saliva is produced, lowering the acidity of the stomach.
What Type Of Feed Is Best For Preventing Ulcers?
When choosing a type of feed, it's also important to note that different feeds are more or less effective in reducing stomach acidity and raising the pH level in the stomach. Alfalfa is an excellent choice for ulcer-preventative feed. It contains both calcium and high levels of protein, which help buffer stomach acid.
Alfalfa cubes are also a high-fiber food, working well as roughage. Cubes contain large amounts of long-stem fiber, which is good for a horse's digestive tract. It also makes a good pre-exercise feed as this fiber can form a protective mat that helps prevent acid from splashing from the lower to the upper stomach during exercise.