Our friends at Nutrena recently shared with us about a time a horse owner contacted them about changing a horse’s diet. The customer explained that the horse was “off his game,” showing a lack of appetite and not finishing his grain. His disposition had become rather grumpy, and his performance level was suffering. He had also shown signs of mild colic over the past two months. They suggested the owner contact her veterinarian, as it sounded like the horse may have an ulcer.
The percentage of horses with ulcers continues to increase, and higher intensity levels of training are correlated with an increase in ulcer incidence. Ulcers often occur in the upper third of the stomach, which doesn't have a mucus layer and doesn't secrete bicarbonate that helps to buffer stomach acid. It's also interesting to note that ulcers have not been found on pastured horses, probably due to the fact that as a horse grazes, it produces large amounts of saliva, which contain the bicarbonate and amylase needed to provide a buffer for the stomach lining.
A week later, the owner confirmed the diagnosis. The horse was now on medication, but some dietary changes were in order, too. Our partners suggested the following “back to basic” steps to help manage her horse’s condition:
- Allow the horse to be turned out or hand grazed.
- If access to pasture is not possible, good quality hay is a must. Recent studies indicate that legume hay such as alfalfa is an excellent choice due to the high calcium content which may help to serve as a buffer.
- Break the daily rations into smaller, more frequent meals. This helps keep saliva production constant and protects the stomach lining – more like “grazers” instead of “meal eaters.” If possible, use a slow feed hay net (also called a nibble net) to encourage the horse to consume hay more slowly and increase chewing time. It’s also a good idea to feed hay before feeding grain.
- Avoid high starch diets. These tend to aggravate ulcers due to increased acid production. A high fat, high fiber feed is ideal.
- Consider a digestive supplement. We suggest a product like Nutrena Empower Digestive Balance.
Of course, prevention is always the best treatment plan! It’s important to remember that all horses are unique and respond differently to stressors. If you can minimize stressors as much as possible, provide your horse with access to pasture and light exercise, offer quality nutrition and forage, then you are helping to limit the chance your horse will develop ulcers in the first place.
As always, our experts are here to help you select just the right products for your animal's complete nutrition. If your vet has recommended a dietary change for your horse, we'll be happy to set you up with everything you need. Call or stop by today, and we'll be grateful for the chance to serve you!