Gastric Ulcers In Horses: Search For Biomarkers, Treatments Continues

Are you considering having your horse’s stomach scoped again? Is there any other way to verify the presence of gastric ulcers? Right now, there isn’t, but researchers are working on noninvasive ways to diagnose and monitor horses with equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS).

Many performance horses have gastric ulcers, which are defects in the surface of the stomach lining that occur in either the glandular or nonglandular (squamous) regions. Thought to be largely due to management factors—stress due to training or competition, social isolation, diets high in concentrates or low in forages—gastric ulcers often cause poor performance, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

After diagnosing and grading ulcers via gastroscopy, veterinarians typically recommend treatments geared to decreasing the acidity of the stomach. Treatment plans for EGUS typically include diet modifications, management changes, and medications such as omeprazole, sucralfate, and ranitidine. Nutritional supplements designed to control the pH within the stomach could also be included.

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Triacton supports gastric health by moderating acidity using ingredients shown to have greater buffering capacity. Those include a seaweed-derived source of calcium and several other highly bioavailable minerals,” said Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research. “The form of calcium in Triacton offsets the negative effects of omeprazole on calcium digestibility compared to other commonly used sources of calcium in feeds and supplements.”

Because gastroscopies play a key role in ulcer management, repeated procedures are a necessary evil as horses may be resistant to treatment or the ulcers may return rapidly following cessation of pharmaceutical treatments like omeprazole.

Veterinary researchers recently suggested that identifying blood or salivary markers, or perhaps a combination of both, could help create a diagnostic panel for EGUS. This tool would screen patients for EGUS and monitor response to treatment, which would limit the frequency of gastroscopy.*

Blood collected from eight mature geldings with gastric ulcers was evaluated for total antioxidant capacity. A moderate but significant correlation between blood and salivary antioxidant capacity was identified, potentially indicating that oxidative stress decreases as ulcers heal.

“The role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in EGUS requires further exploration, but these very preliminary findings suggest that antioxidants may play a role in the future management of this condition,” said Whitehouse.

While horse owners wait for this research to advance, Whitehouse suggested using diagnostics and treatments, including gastrointestinal buffers, currently recommended by veterinarians.

*Svagerko, P., W. Bridges, E. Jesch, S. Pratt-Phillips, and K. Vernon. 2021. Equine gastric ulcers; a pilot study: Associated biomarkers and polysaccharide supplementation as a solution. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 100:103518.

Reprinted courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research. Visit for the latest in equine nutrition and management, and subscribe to Equinews to receive these articles directly

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