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Is Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome Limiting Your Horse’s Performance?

5 minute read

Your stomach hurts, and you just don’t feel up to par. Maybe it impacts your concentration and energy level or in some more advanced cases forces you to rest and recover. We’ve all experienced this at some point in our lives.

Our horses can experience a similar ailment called equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS). EGUS is a condition in the stomach or gastrointestinal tract of the horse that can result in inflammation or ulcers, creating an uncomfortable condition for the horse, thus impacting the horse’s overall wellness and performance.

EGUS was first recognized in thoroughbred racing horses; however, it is estimated that 50 to 90 percent of performance horses (racing, competition and showing) have experienced EGUS. Causes can include the environment, feeding management and stress. EGUS is a condition that impacts horses at various life stages. It can be found in young, growing horses that are under an exercise regimen or in horses that may have experienced competition for feed.

How does Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome occur?

There are different theories as to how EGUS occurs. But, let’s start with the anatomy of the stomach of a horse.

The horse’s stomach is divided into two distinct regions: the squamous, non-glandular region at the top, which is considered a continuation of the esophagus lining; and the glandular mucosa at the bottom, this is where most of the feed and gastric juices are present. This portion of the stomach has cells that can produce a mucous layer in order to protect the epithelial tissue of the stomach from the gastric juices needed for digestion.

The squamous or non-glandular region has no mucus layer to protect the epithelium tissue from gastric juices, so it is the most common place that stomach ulcers occur in the horse. It’s important to know that a horse’s stomach produces up to nine gallons of acidic fluid per day, even when the animal is not eating.

Researchers have found that exercise increases gastric acid production. When a horse exercises, the acidic fluid in the stomach splashes and exposes the upper squamous, non-glandular region to the gastric acid. Since this region of the stomach lacks a mucus layer for protection, the gastric acid will cause inflammation and damage to stomach epithelium cells. If undetected or untreated, the damage can get to the point of a bloody ulcer, resulting in tremendous damage to the epithelium and causing pain and discomfort to the horse.

In the case of a race horse, it may mean the difference between running a race and not, or the difference between coming in third instead of first.

Zinc & GastroGard®: Better Together

GastroGard — FDA approved omeprazole product — is an effective treatment for EGUS. However, trace minerals play a significant role in managing inflammation and building epithelial tissue integrity, which helps reduce the likelihood of ulcers. With this in mind, Zinpro® conducted a study at Louisiana State University (LSU) to illustrate how trace mineral nutrition can impact epithelial tissue integrity and reduce gastric ulcer scores, number and severity.

A 4-point scoring system (0 to 3) has been developed by veterinarians to help classify the severity of equine ulcers. Ulcer scores of 1 or above are considered clinically significant.

The study included mature thoroughbred race horses that had known ulcer scores of 1.85 to 1.90, which falls in the clinically significant range. These horses were assigned to one of two treatment groups. The horses with an ulcer score of 1.85 were placed on a treatment regimen using inorganic trace minerals (INO), while the horses with a score of 1.90 received Zinpro Performance Minerals® (ZPM). All horses received daily GastroGard treatment for the first 14 days.

The goal of the first 14 days of the study was to heal the ulcers. Horses receiving the INO and GastroGard treatment had an ulcer score of 0.12, and those receiving the ZPM and GastroGard treatment had a score of 0.22 after the first 14 days. Both well below the clinically significant score of 1.

The next step was to continue the treatment regimen for 28 days until a feeding model was introduced to induce ulcers on day 42. Hay was withdrawn from the diets in each group for a 24-hour period every other day until a total of 96 hours of hay deprivation was achieved over the course of a week to initiate ulcers.

When horses are fed frequently or on a free-choice basis, it helps to buffer the acid in the stomach. However, if the horses stomach is not full, it will not have a buffer and the gastric acid will move up into the squamous or non-glandular region of the stomach causing the lining to ulcerate due to the lack of a mucus layer to protect the epithelium tissue.

Ulcer scores were determined at 42, 49 and 56 days. On each evaluation day, horses fed ZPM showed a significant reduction in ulcer scores compared to the horse fed the INO treatment.

Performance Trace Minerals Help Reduce Severity of Ulcers in Horses

Feeding Zinpro Performance Minerals in your equine nutrition program helps build better integrity in the epithelial tissue within gastrointestinal tract of the horse. If an ulcer does occur, then feeding Zinpro Performance Minerals helps support a more robust immune response, thus significantly reducing the severity of the ulcer score. By incorporating Zinpro Performance Minerals into your equine nutrition program, owners can enhance epithelial tissue integrity within the stomach, helping to minimize the number and severity of gastric ulcer syndrome while supporting the overall well-being and comfort of the horse.

Learn more about how Zinpro can help manage EGUS in your racing and showing horses by contacting your local Zinpro Representative.