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How to Spot Gastric Ulcers in Your Horse


Lately your horse has seemed a bit dull. He's cinchy when you tack up, and pins his ears when you ask him to lope. His coat isn't shiny anymore, and his ribs are peeking through his flesh. He's also had leftover grain the past few days after his meals. Call me the Ulcer Police, but I'd say there's a good chance your horse has equine ulcers. I have seen many horses come through my barns and the number one health issue I see, by far, is ulcers.

Equine ulcers are essentially wounds, or lesions, on the wall of the digestive tract. Horses commonly develop ulcers on the lining of the stomach, typically known as gastric ulcers. Gastric ulcers can cause a variety of symptoms such as frequent colicking, weight loss, behavior issues, dull hair coat, cinchiness, unwillingness under saddle, cribbing, and weaving. Ulcers can be very painful, and horses can display a wide range of symptoms.

So, you notice changes in your horse: what's the next step?

In order to diagnose ulcers, you'll need an appointment with your veterinarian. The starting point for most veterinarians to diagnose ulcers is to use an endoscope. This allows them to visually verify ulcers in your horse's stomach. Scoping requires withholding grain and hay for about 12 hours before the procedure and can be quite expensive, so some vets might suggest treating your horse experimentally first, based on symptoms consistent with ulcers.

Treatment for ulcers is simple. Omeprazole is the only drug known to effectively treat gastric ulcers in horses. You can spend hundreds of dollars on supplements, herbs, and minerals in an effort to holistically treat your horse's ulcers, and with excellent intentions. But–get ready for some tough love: that expensive licorice and clay supplement you bought will not heal your horse's stomach ulcers. It might temporarily soothe the pain, but it cannot effectively treat ulcers like omeprazole can.

Treatment for equine ulcers is manageable, but expensive. Prevention, however, is always the best solution to forgoing ulcer medication.

Stress is a major player in ulcer development, so making your horse's living arrangement more natural is vital to his health. Performance horses who travel and compete are highly susceptible to ulcers. Nearly 60% of performance horses have ulcers, and 80-90% of Thoroughbred racehorses have been shown to have gastric ulcers, according to Dr. Jorge Nieto, Center for Equine Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis (UC Davis). If you choose to travel with your horse, try to keep his routine as consistent as possible. Give him breaks at shows and days off when you get home. Allow him turnout time to graze as much as possible. Your horse's stomach produces about nine gallons of acid a day and requires feed and saliva to neutralize that acid. When you feed your horse just once or twice a day, his stomach doesn't have the feed it needs to stabilize the pH balance of all that acid. If possible, feed your horse multiple smaller meals throughout the day or provide free-choice hay.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also make horse's more susceptible to gastric ulcers. Always administer medications with care and caution. Do not give your horse more than the allotted amount recommended by your veterinarian, and watch for clinical signs of ulcers if your horse is required to be on NSAIDs for a prolonged time.

Horses can develop ulcers in as little as five days. If your horse has displayed alarming changes, don't rule out gastric ulcers without talking to your vet. I'm not a vet, nor do I claim to be one. All the knowledge I have, I've gained through first-hand experience and reading as much research as I can get my hands on. I'm passionate about gastric ulcers because I have seen many horses silently suffer.

This is Officer Allie of the Equine Ulcer Police, signing off.
This article is written in remembrance of handsome Chandler, owned by Larry and Thresa Green, and gorgeous Valkyrie, owned by Heather Chandler.

I’m Thankful For…Rusty

As I was blanketing my horses last night, I reflected on how grateful I am for my four-legged companions. I slipped Hot Rod and Kona's blankets over their heads and a chilly breeze blew through my hair. I turned and looked at the next pasture where my old man and constant friend, Rusty, stood looking at me. Waiting for his warm blanket and his dinner, he patiently stood with his head held high. If there is one thing I am thankful for this year, it is Rusty.

Rusty had a rough beginning. We know little about his history or breeding, but I do know his life before me wasn't pleasant. He wasn't always able to count on breakfast and dinner being brought to him. He didn't have a shelter or warm blanket on the snowy days. When he was ridden, he was ridden hard and long with little care afterwards. Those things I know for sure, because we met each other at his lowest point.

Rusty fell into my lap after several unfortunate events involving a tenant of my father's. In an effort to recoup his money, he bargained to keep the horse and planned to take him to the sale barn. That plan changed when I drove out to meet this horse my dad had told me about. He was emaciated, and he was suffering from a horrible abscess in his hoof due to a lack of proper hoof care. I knew nothing about horses, but I knew Rusty needed help and the look in his eyes touched my heart in a way I couldn't ignore.

So I dove in, and everything changed for me. My college plan, my life plan, my friends, and the way I spent my time were turned upside down. I was beginning to say words like, "sheath," "farrier," and "parasite" over the dinner table. My parents' eyes widened, but they never questioned my new-found passion. I read everything I could find on horse care, I studied it at school, and in my spare time I drew up plans for boarding facilities. I felt at home with my new horse and my new outlook on life.
Many years later, I'm still thankful for that old sorrel gelding. He was a wise, patient teacher. He marks the beginning of all things horsey in my life and I am forever grateful.


Beet Pulp: The Little Feed That Could

You might not think you could get excited about a seemingly insignificant feed called beet pulp, but as beet pulp's biggest fan, I can attest that this humble feed is by far the best work-horse of the equine nutrition world. Also known as the the black sheep of the equine feedstuff family, beet pulp has somewhat of a bad name, usually forgotten at the back of the feed store. Let me help you dust off that lonely feed bag and ignite a newfound passion for my friend, beet pulp.
Beet pulp is a by-product of the sugar beet industry. After the sugars from the beets have been extracted, the fibrous pulp of the beet remains and is processed into the livestock feed called beet pulp. Beet pulp is a great forage source with, on average, 10% crude protein. Beet pulp is generally packaged and sold in a pelleted or shredded form. Either form works great for feeding horses, but the pelleted form takes longer to soak in water before feeding. Beet pulp can be found plain or with molasses added. The addition of molasses increases palatability and decreases dust. For horses requiring low-sugar or low-starch diets, owners should opt for molasses-free beet pulp. The same goes for HYPP horses- because of the high amount of potassium found in molasses.
Beet pulp is a great forage feed for most horses, but it is especially beneficial to underweight horses, hard-keepers, and older horses. A highly digestible forage, beet pulp is optimally used in addition to a high-quality grain and hay diet to help pack on the pounds for underweight horses. Not only will it add calories to a horse's diet, but this feedstuff will also lower the possibility of your horse getting "hot" as it would on traditional high-starch feeds. Because beet pulp is generally soaked before feeding, it works well for older horses who have a difficult time chewing their food. It is important to note, however, that beet pulp is not suitable for growing foals and yearlings in large quantities as a stand-alone grain because of its high calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. For growing horses, it is best fed in addition to a regular feeding program.
Most horse owners have heard stories of horses eating dried beet pulp and choking, but the fact is that horses can choke on any feed. Beet pulp can even be found in some senior feeds that do not require soaking. However, because its dryness, it's better to be safe than sorry: soak your beet pulp first. Also think of it as an opportunity to increase your horse's water intake. Most companies recommend soaking in water prior to feeding anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. Check the label on your feed bag before you begin for specific instructions. Two parts water to one part beet pulp is a good place to start on your measurements. I've found some horses like it more soupy than others, so take your time figuring out exactly what your horse likes.
Beet pulp can be fed everyday in addition to your horse's normal feeding program to bump up his weight, or to help reduce excess energy caused by high amounts of carbohydrate feeds. I have very easy keepers, so this is not a feed source I use on a daily basis, but I always keep it on hand for times when I think my horses need more water. Very cold or snowy winter days are my favorite time to feed a small amount of beet pulp to my horses. I soak the water in my home in very hot water, let it steep and absorb, and then feed it when it's still warm. It helps them incorporate extra fluid on days that icy water from their tank is not enticing, and it also serves as a warm treat. In the summertime, be sure not to let your beet pulp spoil before feeding. A couple of hours in the feed room during a hot Oklahoma summer day is about all it takes to make your beet pulp slimy and rancid. I have even stored my soaked beet pulp in the tack room refrigerator as a cool treat for a hot horse.
Remember always to do your research before adding or changing your horse's feed regimen. If you have questions about feeding beet pulp, contact your veterinarian! Changing your horse's grain and hay is serious business since it can increase her risk of colic. Always transition slowly. And don't be afraid of the little-feed-that-could, beet pulp!

How To: Wound Care Caddy

It's a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a ride. The arena has just been dragged and the fluffy footing is calling your name. You walk out to the pasture to catch your horse. When he doesn't come trotting up as usual you call his name and scan the horizon. Slowly, he comes limping up to you with a bloody gash on his hind limb. Your heart drops, but you immediately devise a plan to care for his wound.

All horses get hurt, it's only a matter of time. When emergency strikes, the last thing you want is to have to search for first aid supplies. Here's a great list of of essential first aid supplies needed to care for a wound before your veterinarian arrives or to help heal a wound on your own. I store mine in a convenient, and inexpensive, caddy equipped with an easy-to-carry handle. Many horse owners keep their first aid kits in plastic tubs with lids, but I personally like to have it in a caddy so I can see all my supplies and have them at my fingertips. Use what works best for you, though!
1. Betadine solution. You can either dilute iodine yourself or use Betadine surgical scrub. I prefer to use surgical scrub with a clean sponge or sterile gauze because the suds deeply clean wounds. Not all wounds can be scrubbed, so use your best judgment when selecting a cleaning solution. Nolvasan is also an excellent cleaning solution preferred by many veterinarians.
2. Nitrofurazone ointment. There are many types of ointments on the market for wounds, but this one is my favorite. This ointment works well as an antibiotic preventing surface bacterial infections. It can be used with or without a bandage.
3. Wonder Dust. This is one of my favorite products to use on wounds that are slow healing. Its drying agents prevent bleeding, creating a dry barrier to contaminants. It also contains charcoal to cut down on proud flesh growth.
4. Non-stick gauze pads. These are a necessity when bandaging a leg wound. Larger sizes are best for horses!
5. Vetrap. You never know when you might need to wrap a leg wound. I always keep several rolls in my wound care caddy so I'm not tempted to skimp when wrapping.
6. Bandage scissors. Ever tried cutting through an old wrap with regular craft scissors? Take my word for it and don't even attempt it, unless you want a new wound. Invest in some bandage scissors and thank me later.
7. Towels. Towels come in really handy to stop blood flow on a wound or to dry off a leg after cold hosing and, before applying a wrap. If you don't want to purchase brand-new towels just to be ruined on a bloody wound, use clean old t-shirts or socks! Clean mismatched socks are great used as mitts to apply pressure or clean a wound.

Obviously, this caddy is reserved specifically for wounds and minor abrasions. Complete first aid kits are much more extensive and can treat a wider range of ailments. When building your complete first aid kit you might consider adding a thermometer, petroleum jelly, latex gloves, a twitch, hoofpick, phenylbutazone, banamine, and a stethoscope. Also keep a separate caddy equipped with supplies for applying standing wraps. Having these basics ready in one place will make caring for a wound less stressful for you and your horse!

About Allie

About Allie

Welcome to my blog! My name is Allie and my passion is caring for horses. My days consist of feeding, cleaning, and nurturing my two favorite things: horses and my little girl! I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures in equine ownership and life as a business-owning mommy!