Equine Gastric Ulcers (EGUS) are very common in horses, including pleasure horses. Although there are some products on the market, it is possible to manage EGUS with herbs. This article is not about the causes of EGUS but how to manage it naturally.
Studies have shown that around 90% of race horses and 60% of other performance horses show signs of EGUS to various degrees, even foals.
Horses are designed to graze 18 to 20 hours a day. When horses are stabled or in small yards with no access to pasture, acid raises in the stomach, damaging its lining. To avoid acid rising in the stomach, the horse should have access to pasture at all time or have good Lucerne hay available at all time. Lucerne has shown to have a constituent that helps regulate stomach acid and pepsin so it should be included as hay and chaff.
It is important to adapt the horse’s diet to manage EGUS. Here are some tips:
- The horse should have a low-starch diet as starch is less digestible.
- High starch feed: rice bran (20%+), wheat bran (%40+), pollard, millrun, cereal grains (oats, barley, corn), cooked rice
- Low or no starch feed: copra (1%), lupins (3.7%), horse beans (next to none). Lupins are best bought extruded, micronized or steamed. It is easier to feed that way. If you buy normal lupins, they need to be of a specific varieties for horses (white ones) and they should be soaked. Lupins are good to fatten up horses. Copra is excellent as well but needs to be soaked for few minutes in water with 3x the volume of dry copra.
- When hard feed is given, the same volume amount of chaff must be given at the same time.
- Hard feed should be divided in frequent small meals/day
- The following feed should not be given when EGUS is present: garlic (it is sulfur), sulfur, salt
- Never exercise the horse on an empty stomach. Always give him a bit of hay before exercising and then he can have his full meal after.
- Avoid stressing situations. Stress may contribute to EGUS.
- Feed hay before the hard feed because hay has long stems and holds down the acid in the stomach
- Lucerne hay and chaff are recommended in cases of ulcers.
- Avoid giving antacid products
EGUS can be controlled and treated with herbs as follows:
- 1 teaspoon of licorice root – This is NOT the licorice treat or sweet. It is the root of the plant. Licorice is anti inflammatory and antiulcerogenic. It is a potent herb and dosage should not be exceeded and not be given more than 3 months in a row. Can be repeated after 2 weeks break.
- 1 cup of marshmallow root or leaf. This herb is used internally in veterinary medicine for digestive problems, gastric ulcers, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, bronchitis.
- 1/2 a cup of comfrey leaves.This herb is analgesic, demulcent, anti inflammatory and anti ulcer. Caution should be taken when feeding this herb as it may be toxic in high quantity. You can grow your own and give few fresh leaves a day.
- 1 cup of meadowsweet leaves: a natural antacid, antiulcerogenic and analgesic commonly used in equine herbal practice
- 1 tablespoon of slippery elm bark. This herb is a demulcent and is traditionally used for digestive upsets
- Probiotics to restore the gut flora (from the produce store, like Protexin)
- 25-50ml Apple cider vinegar to encourage saliva, a natural protection against gastric acidity
3 months on, then 2 weeks off. Reassess and if necessary, do another 3 months.
If the ulcer is severe, the horse would present some bad behaviour (heated up) or cribbing, pacing up and down or in circle, aggression etc. Once the ulcer is treated, the behaviour is likely to change.
If there is no sign of bad behaviour, the ulcer could be mild and could be treated within 3 months.
Once the ulcer is treated, more conventional feed can be re-introduced slowly but if feeding grains, no more than 0.5kg/100kg of body weight/day.
Only a vet can successfully diagnose EGUS. If you are suspecting your horse to have ulceration, please contact your veterinarian. If your vet prescribes conventional medicine, it is wise to follow the prescription and let him/her know that you will also be using herbs to help the healing.
Here are some links that give you more information on the subject:
- From Dr. John Kohnke BVSc RDA https://www.kohnkesown.com, Gastric Ulcers, Causes and Management 144.74 Kb .
- Ulcerguard (Ranvet)
- Vetrinary Herbal Medicine, Susan G. Wynn, Barbara J. Fougere