A healthy digestive tract processes feed and fiber more effectively and is less vulnerable to ulcers, colic, and other digestive upsets.
Ulcers: a common problem in horses
It is predicted that most horses will have ulcers at some point in their lives. This condition can be both painful and costly, but it is something that can be helped, and possibly even eliminated, with proper management.
The majority of equine ulcers form in the upper portion of the stomach. This area is made up of mainly epithelial cells similar to those found in the esophagus. This section of the stomach has little protection from the secretions produced in the lower part of the stomach (hydrochloric acid and pepsin) that help to break down food. While the lower glandular section of the stomach has buffers to help protect it, the whole system is in a very delicate balance. This balance can be thrown off by any type of change in a horse’s life: a change in feed, in stabling, in training or show schedule. Even moving to a new pasture can induce stress. When the upper portion of the stomach is repeatedly exposed to damaging acids, ulcers can take hold.
It’s all a balancing act
Horses are hindgut fermenters. In other words, the hindgut portion of your horse’s digestive tract contains millions of beneficial bacteria and yeast, often referred to as microbes or “bugs.” These bugs have the ability to break down otherwise indigestible fiber into digestible compounds through a process called symbiotic microbial fermentation.
The bug population living in your horse’s gut is complex and easily disrupted. Confinement, high-energy demands, high-starch diets, abrupt feed changes, shipping, illnesses, and other stressful situations can throw the delicately balanced system out of whack and make your horse sick. Keeping your horse’s good bugs happy and healthy is one of the major challenges facing today’s horse owners.
Protect your horse’s digestive tract
Providing horses with the opportunity to graze or to have access to free-choice hay is one of the best ways to keep their digestive tract healthy. During stressful times (bad weather, old age, illness, relocation, weaning) or when horses are dealing with a demanding schedule (training or competing), digestive aids are helpful in maintaining the delicate balance in the horse’s stomach and hindgut. Balancing the digestive system is key in maintaining health by improving nutrient absorption and reducing the risks of digestive issues.
All horses and ponies are at risk for digestive upset and ulcers.