Understanding Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) is a prevalent condition affecting horses of all ages and disciplines. Understanding EGUS is crucial for horse owners and caretakers to ensure the well-being and performance of their equine companions.

Causes of EGUS

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome can stem from various factors, primarily linked to the lifestyle and management of horses. Understanding these underlying causes is pivotal in mitigating the risk of EGUS and ensuring the well-being of equine companions. Some of the leading causes include:

Limited Turnout and Grazing

Horses that spend most of their time stabled or have restricted access to grazing or forage are more prone to EGUS. The lack of a constant forage intake can lead to increased gastric acid production without the buffering effect of saliva from chewing. When horses cannot graze freely, their stomachs remain empty for extended periods, leaving the stomach lining vulnerable.

High-Starch Diets

Feeding horses diets high in starch, such as cereal grain-heavy meals, can increase acidity in the stomach, predisposing them to ulcers. Starch-rich diets can also overwhelm the stomach’s natural defence mechanisms.

Intense Exercise

Performance horses undergoing rigorous training and competition schedules may experience stress-induced changes in gastric acidity, exacerbating the risk of ulcer formation.

By recognising these contributing factors, horse owners can implement preventive measures to reduce the risk of EGUS and promote gastric health in their equine partners. From optimising turnout and grazing opportunities to carefully managing dietary choices and exercise regimes, proactive management strategies play a crucial role in reducing the risk of EGUS and ensuring the overall well-being of horses.

Symptoms of EGUS

Being able to recognise the signs of EGUS is vital if you want to be able to detect it early and intervene. While some horses may exhibit overt symptoms, others may suffer silently. Common symptoms of EGUS include:

  • Poor Performance Horses with gastric ulcers may display a decline in performance, reluctance to work, or behavioural changes during training or competition.
  • Changes in Eating Habits – A decrease in appetite, weight loss, or preference for certain types of feed can indicate discomfort associated with EGUS.
  • Behavioural Changes – Irritability or sensitivity to touch, especially around the perimeter or abdomen, may suggest gastric ulceration in horses.
  • Gastrointestinal Distress – Symptoms such as colic, excessive salivation, or teeth grinding (bruxism) can occur in horses suffering from gastric ulcers.

By remaining vigilant and observant of these symptoms, horse owners can promptly seek veterinary care and initiate appropriate treatment protocols to alleviate discomfort and reduce the risk of further complications.

Treatment and Management Options for EGUS

Effective management of EGUS involves a multifaceted approach aimed at reducing gastric acidity, promoting healing, and addressing underlying predisposing factors. Treatment and management options may include:

  1. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)—Medications such as omeprazole are commonly prescribed to suppress gastric acid secretion and facilitate ulcer healing. Depending on the severity of the condition, oral or injectable formulations may be used. These should only be used under veterinary guidance.
  2. Dietary Modifications – Adjusting the horse’s diet to include frequent forage consumption, reducing grain intake, and incorporating low-starch feeds can help maintain gastric health and reduce the risk of ulcer recurrence. Look for feeds specifically suited for horses prone to gastric ulcers and health, like those carrying the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) Feed Mark for horses prone to EGUS.
  3. Lifestyle Modifications – Implementing changes in management practices, such as increasing turnout time, ensuring access to pasture grazing, and reducing stressors in the horse’s environment, can contribute to the management of EGUS.

Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) can significantly impact horses’ well-being and performance. By understanding the causes, recognising the symptoms, and implementing appropriate treatment and management options, horse owners can effectively manage horses prone to EGUS and optimise the health and happiness of their equine companions.