Diagnosing and Managing Equine GI Health Problems
Practicing veterinarians too easily overlook digestive health in their equine patients. But gut health is vital to the horse’s overall health and performance potential.

When considering equine digestive health, practitioners might be inclined to think only of the stomach. But it is also important to remember the hindgut. The horse’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients requires the hindgut to function properly. The hindgut is also the source of many significant health conditions such as colic. The hindgut is also the home to the microbiota—literally trillions of bacteria and other microbes which play a significant role in the horse’s digestive process, as well as overall health and well-being.

Common clinical signs associated with gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction include intermittent diarrhea, anorexia, and/or colic episodes. But as these issues arise and diagnosis is more obvious, the options for treating them effectively diminish. This leaves practitioners with options that are more costly, more risky, more invasive, and possibly less effective. It is therefore beneficial to the horse and its caretakers to identify an issue sooner rather than later.

Diagnosing GI tract conditions accurately means being able to differentiate between foregut and hindgut conditions. A study published in 2005 introduced a colonic ulcer incidence rate of 63% among performance horses post-mortem (Pellegrini, 2005). Research also shows that ruling in gastric ulcers does not rule out colonic ulcers or other serious issues of the hindgut. Further, treatment approaches for stomach ulcers or other foregut issues are generally likely to be different from those for the hindgut. Thus, the ability to distinguish between foregut and hindgut pathology is important.

The SUCCEED Equine Fecal Blood Test (FBT) provides veterinarians with an easy, affordable, and reliable tool to support the diagnosis of GI tract conditions in equine patients, differentiating between foregut and hindgut issues (Pellegrini, 2009).

Once a horse is diagnosed with gastrointestinal disease, treatment approaches must be considered. For gastric ulcers, omeprazole remains the remedy of choice. It has been proven effective in multiple studies (McClure et al., 2005; Andrews et al., 1999). But this is all dependent on the client’s ability and willingness to pay. Further, recent research has shown omeprazole to be less efficacious in glandular ulceration applications as compared with squamous gastric ulcers. (Sykes et al., 2014, 2015.) Proton pump inhibitors or other acid-reducing treatments are also generally ineffective in addressing hindgut conditions.

Dietary management, including supplementation, might provide an effective alternative method of managing and treating GI health in the equine patient. One such approach to managing the ongoing health of the equine digestive system is found in SUCCEED Digestive Conditioning Program. SUCCEED is a once-daily nutritional supplement that comprises oat polar lipids, beta glucan, amino acids, and yeast products. A specific Veterinary Formula is sold exclusively through veterinarians.

To learn more about effective diagnostic and treatment methods for GI health, register for two free video webinars at dvmvideos.com. Vets and technicians may earn up to 1.0 RACE-approved CE credits for completing both video webinars.