Owners who suspect that their horse or pony might be suffering from Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) frequently contact me. The incidences of this painful and often debilitating condition are sadly, increasing.
Up until now, much of our diagnosis and nutritional treatment of ulcers has concentrated on the upper, ‘squamous’ part of the horse’s stomach. Equines with ulcers present in this region are referred to as having, ‘Equine Squamous Gastric Disease’, ESGD; whilst equines with ulcers present in lower, ‘glandular’ section of the stomach constitute a distinct and different disease – ‘Equine Glandular Gastric Disease’, EGGD (Sykes et al., 2015a).
It’s important to draw a distinction between the two diseases as management of them differs. Indeed, the nutritional strategies that we use for managing ESGD, such as ensuring ad-lib access to a high-fibre diet and reducing the amount of starch and sugar content levels in the ration, will not necessarily improve and reduce EGGD.
We know that with squamous ulcers, the principle cause is the splashing of stomach acids on the sensitive upper squamous stomach lining. However, the causes of glandular ulcers remain unclear. It is widely accepted that it’s an inflammatory gastritis, but the disease process is still not fully understood.
What we do understand from recent research are the risk factors associated with both squamous and glandular disease. With squamous disease: during a horse’s exercise, acid splashes up onto the squamous mucosa, so the longer spent exercising, the more damage that will be done. It is a cumulative effect, so that over a period of time, the amount of exercise done, at trot or above, will contribute to the risk of squamous disease.
For glandular disease; the risk factor is still exercise, but it’s the number of days spent exercising that matter. In one study, show-jumping horses exercised six or seven times a week were found to be approximately three and a half times more likely to glandular disease than those exercising five days or less. Similar research focusing on racehorses who were exercised five days or more, versus those working four days or less, showed a ten-fold increase in the risk of glandular disease. Rest days are therefore vitally important when managing EGGD.
It’s important to know which type of ulcers that your horse has, so that you can manage the condition appropriately. Stress isn’t directly associated with squamous ulcers but it is with glandular. Indeed, we know that equines with glandular ulcers have a more pronounced response to stress testing, so effective management of the condition, involves giving them rest days as well as trying to reduce their daily stress levels.
Whilst squamous ulcers are undoubtedly, the most prevalent - some studies suggest that approximately 80% of thoroughbred, racehorses and endurance horses suffer from squamous ulcers – the incidences of glandular ulcers are increasing. One recent report estimates that 30 – 50% of the domestic horse population are suffering with glandular ulcers, with environmentally stressed horses at high risk, even if they are in low-level work.
It’s vital therefore, to look at your horse’s nutritional, environmental and management needs as a whole and if you are concerned about ulcers, please do get in touch.