Friday, February 7, 2014

Dickie's Got a Tummy Ache (Dickie's Ailment Part II)

Trainer was the first to have a light bulb moment ULCERS. I don't know why I didn't think of it first. My Bre mare was colic queen for years back when we didn't know half as much as we do now. I learned how to take care of her by changing one food product at a time. These days the Internet is a wealth of information and I am going to share a bit of what I found out. 

Ulcers can happen fast:
Dickie's behavior changed within a few weeks. Looking back he had a similar episode when I changed his grain last year. I promptly changed it just as quickly I had my old horse back. At the time I just assumed the different grain was making him "hot" now I think it was giving him a belly ache. Research shows that ulcers can be induced in less than five days so it isn't suprising I saw the negative affects so quickly. 

Alfalfa is a miracle drug:
Alfalfa is apparently a natural buffer. Feeding alfalfa reduces stomach pH and can help an ulcer prone horse even fed just once a day. Feeding alfalfa before riding reduces pH during the stress of work and soaks up acid. Most of the myths I was led to believe by old school horse people about alfalfa have been debunked. Alfalfa doesn't hurt kidneys. It might make them thirstier and pee more often but horses' kidneys are more than able to deal with the extra protein in alfalfa. I was also worried about it making my horse "hot". Too many calories make your horse hot. If you are feeding alfalfa and your horse gets hot take a look at reducing concentrated feed first. 

Early Signs are Small:
Is your horse girthy but your saddle fits? Do they pick at grain? Do they take a few bites of grain then a few of hay? Does your horse chew wood? Does your horse seem irritable under saddle? Is he suddenly spooky? Does he have weight loss for no reason? Dull coat? If you don't see these signs in your horse I can be you have seen at least one or two at your barn. 

Dickie had all of these except the last two. He's shiny as a penny. He did lose weight but he's also growing and his work increased so the jury is out on why he lost weight. 

Ulcers Are Common:
Estimates run anywhere between 50 and 90% of horses depending on discipline. I am not so sure about this statistic because the people most likely to look for ulcers are also those in high stress disciplines. Regardless of how high the number really is, the fact remains every horse is wired for ulcers. They are meant to eat tiny amounts constantly and to be endlessly on the move. Most of our horses are fed twice a day (if they are lucky three times), spend most of their time in a stall or small pen, and few get to eat real grass. 

There is something you can do:
The treatment for ulcers is SPENDY one month of omeprazole is over $1,000. However, my vet said she often scopes for ulcers and doesn't find them. Horses can have signs of acid irritation before the damage hits. If your horse has any of the risk factors you should just start prevention techniques now. One of the steps you can take is adding alfalfa. Just a flake a day will help. Don't ride on an empty stomach. Toss them a handful of pellets, soak a handful of cubes, or throw them a flake of hay. Whatever is easiest for you. There are a few supplements with research behind them Egusin and Smart Gut ultra both had promising studies. They have the same main ingredients as Ugard and a few less expensive options. Psyllium also might help but I can't find as many studies on it. Just watch the active ingredients because licorice will cause you to fail a drug test. You can also put your hay in a slow feed net. It is better for his mind too and it is the cheapest solution I listed. 

How this relates to Dickie:
There were some major stresses at the barn, I hadn't worked him as much as usual over the holidays, I added a new hay pellet, and turnout is less due to weather. I think we had a perfect storm for his tummy ache. I started alfalfa and within two days he was back to eating grain. He went from picking at his grain to wolfing it (like normal). I was out there today and he kept checking his grain bin then licking it for good measure to let me know just how much he loves it. He's getting a flake of alfalfa a day and his night time hay goes in the slow feeder (I had gotten lax on that at this barn). I cut out the new hay pellets I added just before this episode. I gave him a round of psyllium and will start him on Smartgut ultra once it arrives. 

He's feeling much better already!! He had two weeks off and Weds trainer got on him. He was his normal naughty busybody self but not the least bit irritated. He was just ready to cause some trouble and have party time. He hardly even looked at the girth when she tightened it and there was no sign of him trying to take off or roll with a saddle. He's pretty rusty after his time off but I am really happy with the diet change. I am hoping that we dodged a bullet and his dramatic nature let us catch it while it was still a tummy ache and not full on ulcer. 


  1. Wow this is a great post!! Thank you for all of the information, especially the symptoms. Chrome had an unexplained drop in weight right before the weather changed cold and had gotten very spooky and kind of irritated. I thought it was because it had gotten cold all of a sudden, but it could have also been his tummy!! I was feeding alfalfa and quit right around then too because I ran out. I think I'm going to get some more and keep him on it, even if it's soaked pellets. It's weird though because he has hay 24/7 and is out in the pasture 24/7, so he doesn't have the normal risks... however during the summer I was only feeding hay twice a day. I've also noticed him chewing on wood too. Not often... in fact it's normally after he eats. I scold him for it and he stops. I'm definitely going to try the alfalfa and might even look into the gut supplements to see if they make a difference. Thanks again for the info! I'm glad Dickie is feeling better already. :)

    1. Alfalfa is probably the easiest way to do it. Not sure what they cost in your area but the compressed bales around here are about $18. They contain a little more than 20 flakes. You could probably even do half a flake or do it a few times a week. My trainer does it three days a week. I think you get a better benefit from the actual hay but pellets/cubes are better than nothing.

    2. I forgot about the compressed bales! That's what I've used in the past and Chrome LOVED it! He would grab it and shake it like a dog! So funny! I'll definitely have to start feeding that again. Thanks for the reminder. :D

  2. Glad you got it figured out! My friend's Clyde was being unusually mean, put him on ulcer meds and fixed him right up.

    1. I mean clydie is not something i would want to deal with. that's a whole lotta pissed off horse.

  3. I love feeding alfalfa for the very reason its a natural buffer

    1. It's funny watching Dickie eat his alfalfa he always takes a minute to stare like he can't believe his luck. Then he bites it like killing it will get it in his body faster. They love it!

    2. I did a whole post on this as it relates to irish. He's on crushed oats and alfalfa. In 6 months he's gained 150 pounds and all signs of ulcers have vanished.