- The type and length of ulcer treatment for horses that your veterinarian prescribes will depend on the exact location in the stomach, as well as the severity of the condition.
- Glandular ulcers don’t heal as easily and don’t always respond to the typical ulcer medications for horses.
- Animals who have already experienced ulceration are at increased risk for a recurrence of the condition.
- Proper feeding regimens, adequate turnout, and potent probiotics coupled with other gut-supportive nutrients, can help to stabilize your horse’s stomach and overall digestive tract, which can help to prevent recurrent incidences of ulceration.
Performance horses are especially prone to developing gastric ulcers, and unfortunately, symptoms often go unnoticed or might be mistaken as a “sour attitude” during training or competition.
Because the condition is so prevalent, understanding the risk factors, proper dietary and environmental management, as well as treatment and preventative options, will be key in keeping your horse healthy and competitive.
If your horse is diagnosed with gastric ulcers, be prepared to make some management changes, and heed your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment protocols in a timely manner. It’s also important to understand that healing your horse’s stomach lining isn’t always a quick and easy fix; it will likely take a multi-pronged approach to resolve the issue and prevent future recurrences.
Fullbucket co-founder and equine surgeon, Dr. Keith Latson, has dealt with his fair share of ulcers throughout his time practicing veterinary medicine. He shares, “Oftentimes, it’s about finding the right management combination for an individual horse. It’s important to not think of ulcers as a herd health management issue; it really is an individual horse management issue.”
Understanding ulcer medication for horses
When it comes to treating Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome, several good options exist, but the specific type of drug/medication and length of treatment your veterinarian prescribes will likely depend on the exact location in the stomach, as well as the severity of ulceration.
Latson’s business partner, equine internal medicine veterinary specialist, Dr. Robert Franklin, explains that the horse’s stomach is divided into two halves: the top, which is called ‘non-glandular’ and the bottom, referred to as ‘glandular’.
“The non-glandular region is typically the area affected by ulceration,” says Franklin. “This region typically responds well to treatment.”
GastroGard and UlcerGard, which both contain the active ingredient omeprazole, are the two main drugs veterinarians tend to use for non-glandular ulcers.
“They work about 80% of the time in a 4-week treatment period,” notes Franklin.
However, Franklin goes on to explain that a glandular ulcer does not heal nearly as easily and doesn't always respond to the typical treatments, so veterinarians often have to rely on a different strategy when treating these types of ulcers.
“We’ve used sucralfate in combination with omeprazole to manage glandular ulcers. Some more recent studies have shown that another drug called misoprostol is likely the best treatment for this type.”
Alternative remedies and natural ulcer treatments for horses
Many equine owners turn to herbal or alternative remedies such as aloe vera juice, marshmallow root, slippery elm, etc., in order to treat ulcers in their horses, and while some of these remedies do have gut-soothing properties, most of them are better suited for prevention, rather than treatment purposes.
“I’ve been in barns where the trainers have done everything they can to try to keep horses off medication, and they’re really making all the right moves in the way that they feed, supplement, and manage the horses,” says Franklin. “Even so, after scoping, we have found that unfortunately, those horses still have a very high incidence of developing gastric ulcers.”
Because of this, Franklin recommends that horse owners focus on healing the condition first and foremost, and then trying to prevent them from coming back by using certain supplements--those that are backed by science.
Key times to use omeprazole for horses with ulcers
Managing the ulcer-prone horse can be tricky due to the fact that once a horse has developed ulcers, they are now at higher risk of recurring incidences of ulceration.
Franklin explains that UlcerGard, which contains a lower dose of omeprazole than GastroGard, is commonly used to maintain ulcer-prone horses. However, it can be expensive to give on a long-term basis, so instead, Franklin often recommends that UlcerGard be given to performance horses, as needed.
For example, if someone is hauling their horse to a big show where they plan to be for a week or so, Franklin will often recommend that the horse be given UlcerGard before they leave and stay on it while at the show.
“You can do the same thing whenever your horse is in intensive training,” says Franklin. “The idea is that you’re going to treat them with GastroGard and then, because you haven’t been able to take the horse out of that high-risk environment, you need to maintain them on UlcerGard so that the ulcers don’t come back.”
But he also notes that the “coming back” is the main problem that he and other veterinarians tend to see.
“We can treat this condition--it may take four to eight weeks--but we can treat it. The problem is that horse owners and managers often (unintentionally) make no management changes to prevent ulcers from returning. That’s where the right supplements can be beneficial--they are a relatively easy tool for the horse owner to implement while also greatly impacting horse health.”
What is the best ulcer supplement for horses?
Research suggests that high-quality probiotics may make a difference in both prevention and treatment of stomach ulcers, likely due to the fact that they support a healthy gut microbial population and also help to maintain a neutral pH.
“Probiotics have been shown to heal gastric ulcers in horses whenever they have been experimentally induced,” says Franklin.
But where probiotics and other gut supportive nutrients, such as digestive enzymes and prebiotics, really excel is in a long-term management program, especially since they are more affordable than keeping a horse on UlcerGard for an extended period of time (and have no negative side effects).
“Improving your feeding regimens, turnout AND adding supplements like potent probiotics that can help stabilize that stomach are the strategies that may help prevent ulcers from returning or developing in the first place,” says Franklin.
Treating and managing ulcers takes time and effort, but the results will yield a healthier, happier, and more competitive horse.
“We’ve got to make sure that we take care of these patients after we’ve treated the ulcers by having a very mindful strategy of the fact that they’re going to come back unless we make changes to disrupt the cycle and promote complete digestive tract health.”