Diet shown to improve gastric ulcers in horses

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One of the horses in the EGUS study is prepared for scoping. 
One of the horses in the EGUS study is prepared for scoping. © Nanna Luthersson

New research has shown that diet can be used to manage gastric ulcer syndrome in horses, especially after veterinary treatment has ceased.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) refers to the ulceration of the horse’s stomach lining. It can affect any horse and can cause discomfort and may have a detrimental effect on behaviour and performance. Several factors, including nutrition, have been shown to increase the risk of ulcers occurring, particularly in the non-glandular (squamous) part of the stomach.  In horses that are actively exercising and training, the incidence of gastric ulceration has been reported to be up to 90% in some sub-populations. Whilst dietary and management changes are often recommended to help reduce the risk of EGUS they are also suggested in conjunction with or following veterinary pharmaceutical treatment. However, until now there has been little published work to confirm their benefit under such circumstances.

A research study between scientists from Denmark, Spain, and Scotland in collaboration with British feed manufacturer Spillers and the Waltham Equine Studies Group evaluated the effect of dietary change in combination with omeprazole treatment and after the cessation of treatment.

The 32 horses in this part of the trial had been diagnosed with significant equine squamous gastric disease (ESGD) and were in hard work. For the purpose of more accurate comparisons the horses were paired, according to the severity of their ulcers, their workload, management and original diet. On a random basis one of each pair was assigned to a specified low starch, fibre-based diet consisting of their own forage alongside a restricted starch, high fibre, high energy cube (Spillers HDF Power Cubes, which are commonly used in racing yards) and a high oil, low starch, chopped alfalfa based feed (Winergy Equilibrium Growth) and the other stayed on their original diet. All animals were scoped before, after the recommended course of omeprazole treatment and then six weeks after the omeprazole finished.

The horses in the no diet change group improved significantly with the omeprazole but when the treatment was stopped many regressed. Overall, by the end of the trial they were not significantly different to when they had started. However, the horses in the dietary change group overall showed significantly improved ESGD scores, not only following the omeprazole treatment but also after the treatment had stopped. This showed that a change in diet was able to help maintain the beneficial effect of omeprazole even after the omeprazole was removed.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) can affect any horse. It can cause discomfort and may have a detrimental effect on behaviour and performance.
Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) can affect any horse. It can cause discomfort and may have a detrimental effect on behaviour and performance. © Nanna Luthersson

Spillers research and development manager Clare Barfoot said: “This exciting work confirms what we suspected; that whilst appropriate dietary change can provide additional support to medical treatment for EGUS most importantly it can help maintain better gastric health post medical treatment.”

The study, titled  The effect of changing diet on gastric ulceration in exercising horses and ponies following cessation of omeprazole treatment was conducted by Nanna Luthersson (Hestedoktoren, a private practice in Denmark) and Coby Bolger (Horse1 Spain), with colleagues from the University of Madrid and Glasgow.  It was presented at the International Colic Symposium on July 20, and achieved an award in 2016 for research in horse welfare from the Fundación para la Promoción del Deporte Ecuestre, Spain.

Last year the British Equestrian Trade Association, in consultation with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, introduced a new feed approval mark to help owners identify feeds suitable for horses and ponies prone to equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS). Currently six feeds in the UK carry the BETA Equine Gastric Ulceration Syndrome (EGUS) Certification Mark.

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