Equine stomach ulcers are a common condition among horses in the racing and show industries, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners. The course of treatment can vary and often be up for debate within the equestrian community. Today, we are resolving the issue of whether or not the treatment of Gastrogard and/or Ulcergard for extended periods of time, possibly lifelong usage, is the answer for your horse with ulcers.
We spoke with Cornell University graduate and gastrointestinal enthusiast Dr. Rachel Gardner, DVM, DACVIM. Located out of B.W. Furlong & Associates in Oldwick, New Jersey, Dr. Rachel helps to tackle the topic of equine stomach ulcers and the ongoing treatment:
NoelleFloyd.com: In your professional experience, when treating horses with chronic and/or ongoing ulcers, do you ever suggest living on Gastrogard and/or Ulcergard?
Dr. Rachel Gardner: In my opinion, horses should generally not be treated with Gastrogard or Ulcergard for very extended periods of time such as "living" on the medication. There is ongoing research investigating the effects of long term treatment with Gastrogard or Ulcergard, but thus far the benefits have not been proven to outweigh the questions of safety and efficacy.
NF: What would be the benefits and/or disadvantages of living on the medication?
RG: The theoretical benefit to a horse "living on" Gastrogard or Ulcergard is long term protection from the development of gastric ulcers. Unfortunately however, some studies suggest that the efficacy, or likelihood that the treatment will prevent gastric ulcers, may decrease with duration of treatment and become ineffective. One possible disadvantage that was recently documented is the increased likelihood of lower gastrointestinal disease if used concurrently with phenylbutazone. Other disadvantages that have been postulated, but not necessarily well proven in horses include the increased risk of diarrhea, changes in the gastrointestinal microflora, and increased risk of fracture. Another clear disadvantage of prolonged treatment includes the cost of therapy.
NF: Can changing the amount of a horse's turnout time affect this theory?
RG: Turnout time does not affect the theory of whether a horse should live on Gastrogard or Ulcergard, however turnout time alone (regardless of treatment status) is shown to decrease the frequency of squamous gastric ulceration.
NF: Does the frequency of how often a horse travels affect the treatment for the horse?
RG: Horses that travel are more likely to develop squamous gastric ulceration, therefore they would likely benefit from more frequent treatment. Continuous treatment, however, is less likely to be effective than targeted treatment around the time of travel.
NF: How about the level of work and/or competition for the horse? Could this suggest a life of Gastro/Ulcergard as an answer?
RG: Horses that exercise to intensity, such as racehorses, and horses that compete frequently may be more likely to develop squamous gastric ulceration. Consequently, they may benefit from more frequent treatment with Gastrogard or Ulcergard, but continuous treatment may not necessarily be beneficial.
NF: In your professional opinion, can the diet/quality of food suggest reasons to be, or not to be why a horse has an increase in ulcers?
RG: Gastrogard or Ulcergard are not a substitute for a balanced, quality diet for horses. Good quality feed offered in proper amounts should be prioritized over supplementation with gastric ulcer treatments.
NF: Are there specific breed types who tend to become more ulceric than others?
RG: Frequency of gastric ulceration has been evaluated with regards to breeds of horses. Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses while in training, as well as competitive endurance horses, have some of the highest prevalence of squamous gastric ulceration. Warmbloods and sport ponies are most likely to develop glandular gastric ulceration.
NF: Overall, can choosing to provide the medication for long term hinder the horse? If so, would one have to increase in dose over time due to a build in tolerance?
RG: There are still many questions to be answered and there is ongoing research regarding this topic, but the current answer would be that yes, continuous supplementation has the potential to hinder the horse. It is suggested that the efficacy of the medication is likely to decrease over time, possibly due to increased metabolism of the drug with continued treatment. Although increasing the dosage could be postulated as a solution to this, it could also increase some of the risk factors described above.
NF: What would you suggest as an alternative for a horse who does tend to be more anxious or have ulcers more often?
RG: The best options for prevention of gastric ulcers begins with the basics of equine management. A proper diet without excessive carbohydrate that contains adequate good quality forage and balanced protein, vitamins and minerals is of paramount importance. Maximizing turnout and managing socialization to decrease stress are also important in gastric ulcer prevention. Targeted antacid therapy prior to exercise may help some horses that are prone to squamous ulcers. Gastrogard and/or Ulcergard are incredibly valuable medications for treating and preventing gastric ulcers respectively, but may be most effective with targeted rather than continuous therapy. A proper treatment plan should always be created by working closely with your veterinarian.
Sounds like, myth: busted! With a proper diet, turnout, socialization, and balanced exercise - there are other answers than prolonged medication for your equine buddy.
Written by Troy Anna Smith
Troy Anna Smith is a Nashville-based writer with a BA in Journalism from Penn State University. Troy finds her passion through her daughter, her love of horses, and her two rescue pups. Some of her writing can be found in The Plaid Horse Magazine, Sidelines Magazine, and The Spark by Heels Down.