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Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) and gastric discomfort affect an estimated 50 to 90 percent of all performance horses. This man-made condition is a product of stress, reduced forage intake, intermittent feeding, confinement, and/or high starch diets. But, through dietary modifications, owners can help improve the gastric environment thereby decreasing the risk of ulcers in their horses.

The equine stomach can be divided into two primary regions, the non-glandular and glandular region. The glandular region accounts for approximately 2/3 of the total stomach and contains secretory glands which release hydrochloric acid (HCl), pepsin, bicarbonate, and mucus. Pepsin and HCl are responsible for starting the process of digestion. However, HCl is a strong acid with a low pH of around 2 to 3. Consequently, the glandular mucosa is protected from gastric acid via proper blood flow and bicarbonate (natural buffer) and mucus secretion. Unfortunately, the upper stomach or non-glandular region is made up of squamous mucosa and void of glands, similar to that of the esophagus. Therefore, its only protection comes in the form of saliva and the buffering capacity of the feed. When the upper stomach is exposed to gastric acid for a prolonged period, erosion and ulceration of the mucosa can occur.

equine stomach diagram

Research has demonstrated that intermittent feeding and fasting increases the risk for EGUS. Horses were designed to graze and consume many small meals throughout the day and night. As such, the glandular stomach continuously secrets HCl. Therefore, an empty stomach continues to release HCl further decreasing gastric pH since there are no feedstuffs or saliva to act as a buffer. This can overwhelm the defenses of the glandular stomach and/or damage the defenseless non-glandular region. 

Horses with continual access to pasture have a decreased risk of EGUS when compared to their stalled, meal fed counterparts. If confinement is required, provide free access to a high-quality, long-stem forage. When compared to a concentrate, forages produce twice as much saliva, helping protect the stomach and buffer gastric acid. Forage type is also an important consideration.  Alfalfa has a greater buffering capacity when compared to grasses.

If possible, decrease the starch content of the diet. Starch can further decrease gastric pH while producing volatile fatty acids which can damage the mucosa. If extra calories are needed, use fats such as soybean oil or stabilized rice bran.

ADM’s Forage First Equine Nutrition is now proud to offer owners another invaluable tool to help support a healthy stomach, Forage First GS. Forage First GS delivers a unique triple action formula, including a proprietary mineral complex, lecithin, and pectin. The proprietary mineral complex provides marine-derived calcium and magnesium contained in a unique honeycomb structure which acts as a strong buffer, helping neutralize gastric acid. Lecithin, a naturally occurring compound containing phospholipids, can interact with the gastric mucosa, helping strengthen the lining of the stomach. Pectin, a water-soluble fiber, can help increase the viscosity of the stomach contents which may help further protect gastric mucosa.

If you have questions or are interested in more details about ADM’s Forage First GS, find us on Facebook or www.ADMequine.com. You can also send us an email to [email protected] or call at (800) 680-8254. Our customer service representatives and Ph.D. nutritionists are always available to help answer any nutrition questions you may have.

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