Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) describes the erosion of the horse’s stomach lining due to prolonged exposure to the acid produced by the stomach. Ulcers can vary in size and severity. They are mostly found in the squamous or non-glandular area of the stomach, and can present as single or multiple lesions.
• Poor appetite
• Weight loss
• Poor body condition
• Dull coat
• Acute and recurrent colic
• Excessive lying down
• Stretching to urinate
• Poor performance and not reaching expected goals
• Attitude and behavioural changes
• Discomfort on girth tightening
• Resentment of grooming
• Possible link to crib biting
Gastroscopy is a painless procedure that allows a trained operator to see live images of your horse’s stomach, using a very long, flexible camera device called an endoscope. When inside the stomach, any ulcers can be seen on a video screen.
To start, a three-metre long endoscope is passed into the horse’s nostril, and down through the pharynx, larynx and epiglottis into the stomach. To achieve the optimal angle to access the pharynx, and avoid potential damage to the scope and horse, the scope is not passed through the horse’s mouth. Although gastroscopy isn’t painful, a tranquilizer is often used to help ensure that the horse remains calm and relaxed throughout. The procedure usually takes around 15-20 minutes. To enable a clear view of the stomach lining, it is strongly advised that horses do not eat for at least 12 hours prior to the procedure.
Once the gastroscopy procedure is over, you should follow the advice given by your vet regarding giving food or water. After the endoscope has been completely removed, your horse can be taken to a stable to recover from any sedation given. If your vet recommends it, water may be given at this stage, but avoid feeding until your horse has fully come round from the sedation, and only on the advice of your vet. It usually takes around 1 hour after the procedure has finished for horses to be fully alert.
If your horse is found to have gastric ulcers, your vet may prescribe medication. This is usually administered daily for a period of weeks. During this time, it may be possible for your horse to continue training or competing on your vet’s advice.
Reducing EGUS in future
Once the ulcers are under control it is important that management and feeding regimes are optimised to help prevent the recurrence of gastric ulcers. There are several factors that can contribute to the likelihood of a horse getting gastric ulcers, and a number of measures you can take to help minimise the risk to your horse.