Hard to Stomach: Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

Learn to read the vast and varied signs of equine gastric ulcer syndrome.
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Hard to Stomach: Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome
Teeth-grinding and general grumpiness are just a few of the behavioral signs of gastric ulcers. | Photo: iStock

Learn to read the vast and varied signs of equine gastric ulcer syndrome

The gelding that kicks the stall wall and acts aggressively toward his neighbors at feeding time. The show horse that’s increasingly more reluctant to perform under saddle. The angsty mare that’s always swishing her tail and grinding her teeth. Many owners observe these quirks in their horses and chalk them up to behavioral issues. But is it truly bad behavior or is it a sign of discomfort? As you’re about to find out, equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) might be to blame.

Stomach Anatomy Basics

The horse’s stomach has two regions: a nonglandular (squamous mucosa) portion comprising the upper third, and a glandular lower portion. The squamous nonglandular region doesn’t feature the thick, protective mucus and bicarbonate (a pH buffer) layer that the glandular region does, leaving it vulnerable to ulceration from gastric acid. 

Frank Andrews, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, LAIM, LVMA, equine committee professor and director of the Equine Health Studies Program at Louisiana State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, in Baton Rouge, likens ulcers in the squamous mucosa in horses to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in humans, in which gastric acid damages the esophageal lining

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Freelance journalist Natalie DeFee Mendik is a multiple American Horse Publications editorial and graphics awards winner specializing in equestrian media. She holds an MA in English from Colorado State University and an International Federation of Journalists’ International press card, and is a member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists. With over three decades of horse experience, Natalie’s main equine interests are dressage and vaulting. Having lived and ridden in England, Switzerland, and various parts of the United States, Natalie currently resides in Colorado with her husband and two girls.

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