Clare Barfoot RNutr, Marketing and Research and Development Director at SPILLERS explains:
Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) can affect any horse. It can cause discomfort and may have a detrimental effect on behaviour and performance, but research shows that a suitable diet can help to manage the condition, especially after veterinary treatment is stopped.
Several factors, including nutrition, have been shown to increase the risk of ulcers occurring, particularly in the non-glandular (squamous) part of the stomach. In horses that are actively exercising and training, the incidence of gastric ulceration has been reported to be up to 90% in some sub-populations. Whilst dietary and management changes are often recommended to help reduce the risk of EGUS they are also suggested in conjunction with or following veterinary pharmaceutical treatment.
The research study on the effect of changing diet on gastric ulceration in exercising horses and ponies following cessation of omeprazole treatment1 evaluated the effect of dietary change in combination with omeprazole treatment and after the cessation of treatment. The 32 horses in this part of the trial had been diagnosed with significant equine squamous gastric disease (ESGD) and were in hard work. For the purpose of more accurate comparisons the horses were paired, according to the severity of their ulcers, their workload, management and original diet. On a random basis one of each pair was assigned to a specified low starch, fibre-based diet consisting of their own forage alongside a restricted starch, high fibre, high energy cube (SPILLERS HDF Power Cubes, which are commonly used in racing yards) and a high oil, low starch, chopped alfalfa based feed (SPILLERS Ulca Fibre) and the other stayed on their original diet. All animals were scoped before, after the recommended course of omeprazole treatment and then six weeks after the omeprazole finished.
The horses in the no diet change group improved significantly with the omeprazole but when the treatment was stopped many regressed. Overall, by the end of the trial they were not significantly different to when they had started. However, the horses in the dietary change group overall showed significantly improved ESGD scores, not only following the omeprazole treatment but also after the treatment had stopped. This showed that a change in diet was able to help maintain the beneficial effect of omeprazole even after the omeprazole was removed.
How SPILLERS Ulca Fibre can help
SPILLERS Ulca Fibre contains short-chopped alfalfa to extend eating and chewing time, encouraging saliva production and increasing the horse’s ability to buffer damaging stomach acid. The high oil content gives slow release energy for optimum condition and a full range of vitamins and minerals includes vitamin E for immune support and muscle health. High-quality protein includes lysine to support muscle development and performance. SPILLERS Ulca Fibre can be fed on its own or in addition to a suitable low starch compound feed such as SPILLERS Ulca Power Cubes.
SPILLERS Ulca Power Cubes
SPILLERS has also launched SPILLERS Ulca Power Cubes, a high energy, low starch cube for racing and performance horses prone to gastric ulcers. Based on SPILLERS HDF Power Cubes which are a favourite in the racing industry, SPILLERS Ulca Power Cubes are just 12% starch and have added functional ingredients to support gastric health. They are ideal to feed alongside a chopped fibre containing alfalfa to help extend eating time and buffer stomach acid.
Both products carry the BETA EGUS Approval Mark demonstrating they have been independently assessed as suitable for horses prone to gastric ulcers.
1 Luthersson N, Bolger C, Fores P , Barfoot C, Nelson S, Parkin TDH & Harris P (2019) Effect of changing diet on gastric ulceration in exercising horses and ponies following cessation of omeprazole treatment JEVS 83 article 102742
Advice for horse owners on how to reduce the risk of gastric ulcers:
- Feed as much fibre/forage as possible at a minimum of 1.5% of bodyweight (dry matter) per day.
- Avoid prolonged periods without forage.
- Avoid straw being the sole or predominant forage source.
- If extra energy is needed look for feeds that have restricted starch and sugar levels and added oil rather than cereals.
- Aim to feed < 1g/kg bodyweight of non-structural carbohydrate (NSC: starch plus water soluble carbohydrate) per meal and preferably <2g NSC/kg bodyweight per day.
- Try to spread meals across the day- multiple small meals are better than one or two large ones.
- Add chopped fibre to every meal - especially alfalfa which has been shown to help buffer gastric acid.
- Avoid very stalky sharp chopped fibre which can increase the risk of damage to the stomach wall.
- Provide a small chopped, fibre based meal or access to forage before exercise to reduce gastric acid splashing up onto the sensitive unprotected upper non-glandular part of the stomach.
- Turn out to pasture as much as possible.
- Provide access to water at all times.
- Avoid using electrolyte pastes.
- Provide forage while travelling.