Gastric ulcers can affect any horse or pony regardless of age, breed, sex and discipline. In fact, it has been estimated that up 90% of racehorses have ulcers. Clare Barfoot RNutr, Marketing and Research and Development Director at SPILLERS explains why……
The problem with stomach acid
The horse has evolved to eat for up to 18 hours a day, with 65% of the gut devoted to digesting fibre. The horse’s stomach produces acid continuously, but they can only produce acid-neutralising saliva when they chew. This means horses on a restricted forage diet that have nothing to eat over long periods are more susceptible to gastric ulcers. Feeding meals high in cereals can also increase the risk of gastric ulcers due to excess fermentation in the stomach. Exercise itself may increase gastric acid production and it also increases pressure in the abdomen, which can result in gastric acid ‘splashing’ onto the upper region of the stomach.
The benefits of forage
The dietary key to reducing the risk of ulcers is to base as much of the diet as possible on forage (no less than 1.5% bodyweight (dry matter) per day), whilst restricting non-structural carbohydrate (NSC: starch plus water soluble carbohydrates) to less than 1g/ kg bodyweight per meal and ideally less than 2g/ kg bodyweight per day. Feeding plenty of forage and/or chopped fibre forms a protective mat on top of the stomach contents, thus helping to prevent ‘gastric splashing’. It also helps to add chopped fibre to help extend eating time. Alfalfa is particularly useful as the high protein and calcium content may help to buffer stomach acid.
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 performance and a full range of vitamins and minerals including 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 Fibre was used alongside another SPILLERS feed in a recent study that showed how diet can have a beneficial effect on gastric health. Horses that were clinically treated for grade three and four ulcers were split into two groups; one group had their ‘hard feed’ changed at the start of omeprazole treatment, while the other remained on the pre-treatment diet.
Overall, the dietary change group maintained their improved ulcer score six weeks post treatment, whereas overall the horses in the group remaining on the pre-treatment diet regressed back to their pre-treatment ulcer scores, proving the value of dietary management in reducing the risk of ulcers.
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.
* 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