For those who have had the misfortune of suffering from heart burn or gastric ulcers, you will be familiar with the pain and discomfort caused by excessive stomach acid. Similar to humans, horses are at risk for gastric ulcers. The trouble with the horse’s stomach is that it still functions the same as an evolutionary horse that roamed the plains and ate small, frequent meals. Under natural conditions, the horse would eat for approximately 16-18 hours per day. During this time, saliva is produced in the mouth to lubricate the food before it is swallowed. Saliva is a natural defense against acidic gastric juices and is only produced when the horse chews, buffering the stomach acid and supplying bicarbonate, a buffer to help further prevent damage to the lining of the stomach.
The type of feed being consumed affects the amount of saliva produced. Researchers have found that when hay and fresh grass is consumed, the horse will produce 400-480 grams of saliva per 100 grams of dry matter. However, when a cereal-based feed is consumed, saliva production will drop by almost half to approximately 206 grams per 100 grams dry matter, in turn greatly reducing the buffering capacity.
|Risk Factors for Gastric Ulcers
High starch meals
Access to poor quality forage, like straw
Inadequate amount of forage
Limited water intake
Little to no turnout
Extended time between meals
||NSAIDs, for example
||Intentse training and/or excercise
Dietary Management to Reduce the Risk for Gastric Ulcers
What can you do to keep the stomach healthy and help prevent gastric ulcers?
- Increase the amount of forage in the diet to allow for longer chew time, stimulating more production of saliva which can help buffer the stomach. Do not feed straw as the sole forage source.
- Feed small, frequent grain and forage meals to mimic a horse’s natural digestive pattern, keeping meals under 5 pounds each;
- Limit starch intake and utilize fat as a calorie source when necessary;
- Always provide clean, fresh water at all times.
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