What are Gastric Ulcers?

Gastric ulcers are erosions of the horses’ stomach mucosa (inner lining) that occur as a result of excessive exposure to stomach acid. Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) varies greatly in it’s severity from mildly inflamed but still intact mucosa to multiple large erosions that can cause bleeding into the stomach.

The most severe form is ulcers so severe that the stomach wall is perforated.

Gastric ulcers can affect any age of horse, right from a foal, and can occur in any breed.

Clinical Signs of Gastric Ulceration:

The difficult thing about the majority of adult horses with gastric ulcers is that the signs they show are often very subtle and difficult to recognize. Some of the following signs may be seen in an adult horse with gastric ulcers;

• Inappetence • Weight loss • Poor performance • A loss in condition – e.g. poor coat • Subtle behavioral changes • Mild low-grade recurrent colic

As you can see, the signs of gastric ulcers are often very subtle but many astute owners will pick up on these changes.

A common reason for investigation, especially in a performance horse, is that the owner feels that the horse is “just not quite right” and, in the absence of other disease, gastric ulcers may be the answer.







The vagueness of clinical signs could actually be considered a clinical sign in itself when considering this disease. Performance Equine Practice Brisbane Mobile 0427 176 863.

Foal with gastric ulceration lying on its back. In foals, gastric ulceration is usually more obvious.

Typical signs in a foal include;

• Excessive salivation (drooling appearance) • Teeth grinding • Frequent lying on their back  • Poor weight gain • Reduced suckling • Occasionally diarrhoea can be seen in a foal with gastric ulcers

How is Gastric Ulceration Diagnosed?

As the clinical signs of gastric ulceration can be so vague, endoscopy of the stomach (gastroscopy) is currently the only technique to achieve a definitive diagnosis of gastric ulceration. This procedure is performed with the horse. The horse must be fasted for 12-24hrs before endoscopy to empty the stomach of fluid and food.

A flexible endoscope of at least 3m in length is required so all parts of the stomach can be visualised.

A clinical response to an anti-ulcer medication can be used retrospectively to diagnose gastric ulcers but, due to the expense of treatment, it may actually be more economical to perform endoscopy to get a definitive diagnosis.

What are the Risk Factors for Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome?

• Exercise and regular competition have been shown to be major risk factors for the development of gastric ulcers in the horse. Even non-intensive training has been associated with an increased risk of gastric ulcer development.

A study in 2007 showed that between 58% and 100% of all performance horses in work are affected by gastric ulcers to some degree.

• The stress of transportation and stabling are both proven risk factors for gastric ulcer development. • Medications such as phenylbutazone (“bute”) and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are known to predispose horses to ulcers by inhibiting gastroprotective factors. • Infrequent feeding has been shown to increase the risk of gastric ulcers.

Horses evolved to graze pasture 16h/d and have a constant inflow of food into their stomach. The stomach constantly produces acids to help digest food and therefore when a horse goes long periods without food (such as between morning and night meals whilst it is being stabled) there is nothing in the stomach to buffer the acids being produced, resulting in damage to the stomach lining.

If you suspect gastric Uler Syndrome investigation by Performance Equine Practice Brisbane by phoning the Dr David Hodge

Vet Mobile 0427 176 863


Leave a reply