Equine Stomach Health: Omeprazole, Diet Changes, and Ulcers

Omeprazole is the only medication proven to heal gastric ulcers in horses, but veterinarians and nutritionists often recommend diet changes to help combat equine squamous gastric disease (ESGD). Little research has been done to affirm or refute the notion that these diet changes actually help affected horses.

To determine if dietary changes help horses with ESGD, researchers found 34 animals with an ESGD grade of 3 or 4. A score of 3 signifies a large single or extensive superficial lesions, while a score of 4 denotes extensive lesions with areas of apparent deep ulceration. The grading scale goes from 0 (normal) to 4. Each animal was paired with another that had the same ulceration grade and that resided on the same premises, on the same diet, and with approximately the same workload.

After initial gastroscopy (scope 1), one of the horses was assigned to a diet composed of restricted starch, while the other in the pair was maintained on the diet familiar to it. All horses were treated with omeprazole for four weeks. Another gastroscopy (scope 2) was performed on all horses after the four-week omeprazole period. Horses were then taken off omeprazole for six weeks, and a third and final gastroscopy (scope 3) was performed. The horses remained in work throughout the entire trial.

Researchers studied the differences in gastroscopy findings between scope 1 and 2, 1 and 3, and 2 and 3 for the two feeding groups. For the horses that were maintained on their familiar diet, there was significant improvement from scope 1 to scope 2; no significant difference from scope 1 to scope 3; and a significant difference between scope 2 and scope 3.

For the diet change group (reduction in starch), there was a significant improvement from scope 1 to scope 2; significant difference from scope 1 to scope 3; and no significant difference between scope 2 and scope 3.

What does this mean? Results from this study suggest that dietary changes, including a reduction in starch, can be advantageous for hard-working horses prone to gastric ulceration.

While omeprazole heals ulcers, RiteTrac ensures that ulcers do not redevelop once omeprazole dosing ends. RiteTrac includes an antacid blend proven effective at elevating gastric pH in horses, and also contains coating agents that provide protection to the gastric mucosa. A second benefit of RiteTrac involves the addition of EquiShure in the formula. EquiShure is a proprietary encapsulated sodium bicarbonate product that protects the hindgut from fluctuations in pH.

“The one-two punch that RiteTrac packs provides horses with outstanding gastrointestinal support,” said Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor with Kentucky Equine Research. “RiteTrac is especially useful for horses that have a history of gastric ulceration from inconsistent feeding schedules or high-grain diets.”

Do you have a question about how best to feed your high-performance horse? Do you think gastric ulcers are gnawing away at your horse’s success under saddle? Contact a Kentucky Equine Research nutrition advisor for free advice!

Luthersson, N., C. Bolger, P. Fores, C. Barfoot, S. Nelson, T.D.H. Parkin, and P.A. Harris. 2018. Effect of changing diet on gastric ulceration in exercising horses and ponies following cessation of omeprazole treatment. In: Proc. Australasian Equine Science Symposium 7:17.