Gastric ulcers are widely recognized as a common issue for competitive horses. Studies have shown that over 80% of performance horses are affected by this condition. Some horses cope remarkably well despite them, but for others the situation can deteriorate until the horse shows related symptoms, including weight loss, decreased appetite, lacklustre performance, general irritability and restlessness and sometimes even recurring colic. The three main causes for gastric ulcers are: an unnatural (high grain/molassed concentrate) diet; stress; and certain drugs. Competitive horses are frequently subjected to at least one of these three main causes on a regular basis.
For permanent relief, the primary causes of ulcers must be reduced or eliminated. Ulcer-prone horses do well on a low concentrate/ high forage diet, based on good quality forages and grazing. The horse’s stomach naturally developed in order to digest small but regular intakes of mainly fibrous material. The large quantities of starchy and sugary grain concentrate meal which stabled horses are usually fed in two or three large feeds daily are in stark contrast to this. Large quantities of grain promote the development of gastric ulcers, because a stomach full of grain will digest far more rapidly than a stomach full of a more fibrous feed. This results in an empty stomach which is vulnerable to continuous gastric acid secretions. It’s common sense that horses prone to ulcers should be allowed free access always to good quality roughage which buffers gastric acids. Ideally, they should also have their grain concentrate meals diluted with lucern chaff, and be fed smaller meals regularly through the day. Studies show that lucern hay has a particularly protective effect; because it’s high protein and calcium content have an excellent buffering effect on stomach acids.
If the horse has had to have a prolonged course of anti-inflammatories or antibiotics; or has had various stressors (e.g. long distance travelling or moving yards) then there are several soothing herbs ideal for healing gastric ulcers. These herbs can also be used before, during and after these types of stressors, to help maintain the horse’s digestive system in a healthy condition and prevent ulcers.
Honeyvale Herbs Ulcer-Ease herbal treatment blend contains 100% pure herbs which work together to restore and maintain a healthy balance of the horse’s nervous and digestive systems. In a synergistic blend form, together they form a highly effective blend for the comprehensive treatment and prevention of gastric ulcers.
A healthy gut flora imbalance is also linked to peptic ulcers. One particular bacterial organism, Helicobacter pylori, is the main culprit as it weakens the mucosal coating which naturally protects the stomach and intestinal walls from stomach acid damage. As a prebiotic supplement, Brewer’s Yeast restores the balance in favour of healthy bacteria, because it provides a rich source of nutrients which enable healthy gut flora to thrive and predominate the intestinal tract. Additional reasons why Brewer’s yeast is beneficial for ulcer horses because it helps to relieve scouring, encourages efficient feed conversion, and it supports the nervous system.
Antacid treatments, including omeprazole and ranitidine (which reduce gastric acidity) are routinely prescribed by veterinarians for equine ulcer treatment. Research has shown that although these treatments can be temporarily effective, they can have a laundry list of unwanted side effects. One negative effect ranitidine had was to permanently alter the normal function and structure of cells lining the stomach and preventing their ability to produce stomach acid. Although ranitidine used to be popularly prescribed by veterinarians for equine ulcers, thankfully it has since fallen out of favour once further research had proved this drug was an unsuitable treatment option. Omeprazole though is not without its side effects either, long-term (more than 60 days) use include risk of it reducing bone density. Also, it’s function in limiting the secretion of normal levels of gastric acids can lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency, which in turn can result in pernicious anaemia, limit the regeneration of damaged nerve tissues and impair healthy liver function. In addition, antacid treatments are limited to treating stomach ulcers only, as it is ineffective against treatment of ulcers in the small intestine, large intestine, cecum and colon.
From a herbalist’s perspective, antacid treatment is a fundamentally flawed treatment approach, in that only normal levels of stomach acids are capable of properly digesting and absorbing a large number of vitamins and minerals, and it’s crucial for breaking down and utilizing proteins.
Herbs do not have the unwanted side effects of standard antacid treatments, and certainly don’t inhibit digestion. In fact, besides actively stimulating healing of gastric ulcers throughout the equine digestive tract, herbs promote effective digestion, and are nourishing in themselves even!
(Text by: Jennie van der Byl).