Natural Remedies for Gastric Ulcers in Horses
Last week, I wrote about preventing gastric ulcers in horses–which is mainly done by making modifications in diet and management practices. This week, I’d like to expand on the issue a bit more and focus on some natural remedies for this very common condition.
First of all, we may not be aware of how many horses suffer from gastric ulcers. As I stated in my previous post, it’s thought that 90% of race horses, 70% of endurance horses, and 60% of show horses are affected by gastric ulcers at some point in their life. I believe this is due to a lack of understanding of how to best feed and manage horses.
Horses don’t always show symptoms of gastric ulcers, but here are a few signs that can be associated with the condition (from mild to severe):
- change in appetite/ weight loss
- poor athletic performance
- poor hair coat
- irritability (especially when being groomed or saddled)
- teeth grinding
- excessive salivation
- dorsal recumbancy (lying on back)
Natural Ulcer Treatments
Omiprazole (Gastrogard) is the only FDA-approved drug for treating gastric ulcers in horses, but it is very expensive ($35-$50 a day). For those interested in going a more natural route, there are several natural remedies that can be used to treat ulcers that have already formed.
It should be noted that no treatment will be completely successful unless dietary and management changes are made as well (see last week’s post for more on that).
With that said, here are a few herbs that are commonly used to treat gastric ulcers in horses:
Aloe vera juice: Aids in repairing the stomach lining and soothing the stomach and digestive tract.
Slippery elm: Anti-inflammatory herb that reduces irritation and promotes healing in the stomach. (Aloe vera juice and slippery elm are often combined for treatment–mix 2 ounces of aloe vera juice with 2 tsp. of slippery elm bark powder. Administer with a syringe three times daily before your horse eats, if possible.)
Marshmallow: Has properties nearly identical to that of slippery elm and can be used instead of slippery elm.
Licorice: Anti-ulcer herb which reduces inflammation in the stomach. *Should not be used long-term though as it can lower gastric secretions.
A few other natural treatments include:
Kombat Boots: This is a brewer’s yeast pelleted supplement which comes recommended by several professionals (including Dr. Kerry Ridgeway). Yeast has been known to improve the percentages of ‘good’ microbes in the gut and improve hooves, but it also apparently helps to strengthen the integrity of the stomach lining.
Papaya fruit: Contains the active ingredient, papain, which resembles the digestive enzyme pepsin. Stimulates the appetite, soothes membranes of the esophagus and stomach. Aids in improving inflammatory bowel disorders. May work better on mild ulcers or as a preventative. There is a commercially available equine product containing papaya called Natural Plan Stomach Soother.
Natural lecithin with apple pectin: Lecithins are a naturally occurring type of phospholipid found in plant and animal cell membranes. Commercially, they are most commonly derived from soybeans. In studies, they have shown to reduce and even eliminate gastric ulcers by creating a barrier against gastric acid. You can buy lecithin as granules at health food stores or online (such as bulkfoods.com). Also, there is a lecithin product made specifically for horses called Starting Gate.
Lecithin is often combined with apple pectin (compound derived from apples) for a better result. Apple pectin is high in fiber and is known for reducing stomach inflammation as well as healing digestive disorders.
Note: This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any equine condition. If you suspect ulcers in your horse, please consult your veterinarian.
Part 1: Natural Ulcer Relief for Horses