Horse on Walker
Because of the expanding number of horse owners who are aware of ulcers, I often get questions about how to prevent ulcers if their horse:
- is going on antibiotic therapy
- must be confined due to an injury or illness
- is heading into training for the first time (especially young horses)
These are all great questions, and each has a different answer.
Prevention during Antibiotic Therapy
As much as I try to avoid it, sometimes antibiotic therapy is necessary, especially with acute conditions or serious injuries. As you probably already know, antibiotics kill off the "friendly bacteria," or probiotics, that live in your horse's gut. These friendly bacteria are an important part of your horse's digestion, and form a first line of defense against foreign invaders that cause illness. Acidophilus is the probiotic that lives in your horse's small intestine while bifidus lives in the large intestine.
A healthy population of these bacteria keeps your horse's food in his gut, preventing food from leaking into the bloodstream, which can ultimately cause allergies, food sensitivities, and a host of other chronic conditions. Antibiotic therapy can seriously affect a horse's health and the functioning of his digestion. All of this can ultimately lead to horse ulcers.
Q: Do you feed digestive support products like probiotics during antibiotic therapy, or after the course of antibiotics is complete?
A: It never hurts to feed prebiotics and probiotics during the course of antibiotics. Feeding probiotics after your horse completes the course of antibiotics is a must.
Q: Do you feed prebiotics, probiotics, or both to prevent horse ulcers?
A: I prefer products that include both prebiotics and probiotics. (Prebiotics are substances that serve as "food" for the probiotics in your horse's gut)
Q: Which brands of prebiotics or probiotics are best?
A: Fastrack is one popular brand that includes both prebiotics and probiotics, with the paste form being more powerful than the powdered form. If your horse has been on a short course of antibiotics (one week or less), Fastrack may be strong enough to replenish your horse's gut with probiotics. If your horse has been on antibiotics for longer or has had digestive issues in the past, the Simplexity Essentials are a better choice. The Essentials are daily packs of supplements that include not only acidophilus, bifidus, and enzymes, but also two forms of blue-green algae. This special kind of blue-green algae acts powerfully to heal any ulcers that may be forming.
Prevention for Confined Horses
Depending on your horse's personality type, confinement can either be restful or stressful. For instance, the super-competitive Wood horse can easily develop ulcers from sheer restlessness and boredom, while the laid back Earth horse may do fine with confinement so long as plenty of food is present.
Follow these general guidelines to prevent ulcers in an equine who has to be confined for an extended length of time:
- cut back on grain-type feeds
- increase the amount of hay you feed
- feed herbal supplements like Relax Blend from Equilite or Omega Sun blue-green algae from Simplexity
Cutting back on your horse's grain-type feeds will ensure that he isn't bursting with excess energy that he has no way to release. The extra hay will provide hours of entertainment since horses were meant to eat all day long. In addition, the hay forms a fibrous mat in the upper part of your horse's stomach, which acts as a buffer against the acid produced in the lower stomach. If this buffer is not present because your horse isn't getting enough hay, he could develop stomach ulcers if the acid from the lower stomach contacts the upper stomach.
Finally, the Relax Blend from Equilite or the Omega Sun blue-green algae from Simplexity will keep your horse in a relaxed and calm state. When your horse is relaxed, he is operating from his parasympathetic nervous system, which is the nervous system associated with relaxation, rejuvenation, and healing.
Prevention When Starting Training
Many horses going into a training program for the first time will develop stomach ulcers because they are under stress. If this is the case for your equine friend, the best way to prevent horse ulcers is to keep him relaxed and to provide plenty of probiotic support.
For calm horses, daily doses of Fastrack should provide enough probiotic support to prevent ulcers. For horses with a more intense or nervous personality, the Simplexity Essentials would be more suitable. The Essentials are more nutrient-dense, and provide more probiotics per serving than Fastrack. It's important to provide probiotic support because probiotics are the bacteria that produce B-vitamins in your horse's body. B-vitamins are known to have a calming effect, which both reduces your horse's stress level and helps prevent horse ulcers.
Finally, if you think your horse is going to be really stressed by his training program, consider adding two capsules of Eleviv to his daily regimen. Eleviv is an herbal product that helps keep horses functioning from the parasympathetic, or calm, nervous system. Eleviv can have a dramatic effect on certain horses for whom probiotic support is not enough.
Unless otherwise attributed, all material is written and edited by Madalyn Ward, DVM. Copyright (c) 2010