One of the most common problems we see in our performance horses is often overlooked and under-treated. Symptoms for this ailment may include irritability, dullness, hotness, aggression, spookiness, kind-of-sort-of-not-quite-sound, conservative gaits, and inability to gain weight. When these symptoms are recognized, owners & vets tend to categorize them into the realm of Gastric Ulcers. When dealing with gastric ulcers, the answer is easy, expensive, but easy. A round of Gastrogard will dampen/shutdown acid production in the stomach, which allows the ulcer lesions time to heal. After a month, ulcers should be gone and the horse is on his merry way.
However, the 2 problems with this method of treatment become apparent when symptoms are not resolved or return after a few months.
Most of the time, symptoms recognized as gastric ulcers are actually caused by pain throughout the rest of the digestive tract. Veterinarians can scope a stomach to definitively see lesions on the stomach lining, but it they can not easily look into the intestines for proof of irritation. Ergo- gastric ulcers takes the blame. The problem with this is that common ulcer treatments, proton pumps and calcium buffers, have little ability to help the GI tract past the stomach. So while omeprazole might help stomach irritation, there is still 100 ft of tract left unaddressed.
Horses who come up with Gastrointestinal irritation(GII)- (gastric ulcers & inflammation throughout the rest of the tract) tend to be chronically prone to GII. The exception to this would be an acute environmental or biological incident that irritates the gut- such as a surgery or a round of NSAIDS. More often than not though, horses prone to GII have genetically inherited a poorly fortified GI tract, suffered extended nutritional/environmental deficiencies (OTTBs), or live in an environment unsuited for a healthy gut (stalled more often than not, no free choice forage, relatively stressful environment). This being established, GII management is less ‘once & done’ treatment and more of a life long maintenance program.
Establishing the reality of the problems in the gut, we can more clearly see realistic solutions. Here are the 6 steps we like to take to nip GII in the bud once and for all!
1) Pin point the cause of the horse’s GII. This may take a little investigation or a reality check. Could this horse’s GII be the result of a recent acute stress factor? Or is it a chronic issue. In our experience, we have found that most OTTB’s, due to their breeding, environment at the track, and track diet, tend to have chronic damage to the microbial environment in their hind-gut, making them chronically at risk for GII. If the horse lives in a stall more often than not, or has limited forage intake (not free choice) he is also chronically fighting his environment in terms of GI health.
2) If needed, adjust the horse’s environment. So often, a horse’s nutrition program or stressed life style attributes to GII. While some of these factors may not be flexible, optimizing a horse’s nutritional and environmental situation will make a significant difference in his GI health. This may mean switching to a concentrate that provides calories via fat & fiber vs starch, offering a horse hay all hours of the day, or giving more turnout time.
3) If Gastrogard is in the budget, DO IT. It is expensive medication, but if the horse scopes positively for gastric ulcers, this will take care of them quickly.
4) BEMER Therapy. Where the BEMER signal uses electromagnetic pulse to treat down to a cellular level, BEMER sessions will bring down inflammation throughout the GI tract, which will directly reduce pain. With the added micro-circulation, the BEMER will also speed healing of ulcerations.
5) Maintain chronically prone horses on feed through lubricants. Oral supplements like slippery elm bark, Aloe-Vera Juice, Mad Barn’s Visceral, and U7 are not so much valuable nutritionally as they are able to line the alimentary tract (mouth to anus) to coat ulcerations, dry spots, abrasions, and inflamed areas in the tract. This action serves as a sort of band aid, preventing GII from occurring and allowing it to heal. Horses prone to GII may spend their lives needing this extra boost on a daily basis.