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Published: 2014-02-28

One of the most common syndromes found in sport horses today is equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) or more commonly referred to as just “ulcers.” Gastric ulcers are lesions in the lining of the stomach, ranging from minor irritations or “pinpoint” ulcers to full perforation (Davis, 2006). Since the symptoms as often vague, such as decreased performance or changes in attitude, ulcers can easily be misdiagnosed.

Whenever a horse is suspected to have ulcers, it is best to reexamine the management of that horse. One of the most common changes that improves the gastric health of the horse the most significantly would be increased feed frequency of both forage and concentrates, such as grain. It is well known that horses are naturally all-day grazers, but this does not fully explain why increasing feed frequency assists in ulcer prevention.

An interesting study was performed by North Carolina State University to examine why increasing feed frequency helps control ulcers (Berschneider et al., 2010). The study had a group of horses which were all cannulated, which means they had a surgically implanted access port to their stomach to allow for greater examination of the horse's digestion in the whole animal scenario. These animals were then divided into four feeding protocols: hay fed twice a day, hay and grain fed twice a day, hay fed constantly, and hay fed constantly with frequent small grain meals.

Through the inserted cannulas (ports), the horses were monitored hourly for any changes in acidity due to decreased access to forage and/or grain. While no significant differences in acidity were noted throughout the experiment, a significant increase in bile salt concentrations was noticed in the meal fed groups. Bile salts are a natural liquid normally secreted by the pancreas into the duodenum, or first portion of the small intestine, and are important for the digestion of fat. It was theorized that, during periods of fasting, a phenomenon known as "duodenal reflux" was occurring, which is when the bile acids go up the digestive tract and into the stomach. Further investigation by the team showed that, while bile salts themselves were not destructive to the stomach lining, when combined with an acidic environment, they heavily aggravated any existing ulcers more so than gastric acid alone.

Based on this study, though, duodenal reflux seems to be easily avoided by frequent feedings of either hay or grain to the hay, thereby helping prevent ulcers and decrease the potential severity of an ongoing case.
In the next Feed for Thought, we will discuss some of the feeds Cavalor® offers for horses prone to gastric ulcers found in our Cavalor® Strucomix products or our newest feed, Cavalor® FiberForce.

Williams C. A. and Ralston S. "Winter Feeding for Horses." Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. February 2011. Marteniuk J. "Winter Energy Needs in Horses." Michigan State University, College of Veterinary Medicine.