Stress and Gastric Ulcers
Gastric ulcers are a common result of chronic stress and cause a large amount of anxiety for owners. Unfortunately, ulcers often go undiagnosed until the effects become serious. Cortisol, a hormone released by the adrenal glands during stress, reduces the production of the hormone prostaglandin, which then lowers the Ph (increases the acidity) of the stomach. In turn, the stomach’s protective mucous lining is less effective and susceptible to damage. The development of lesions (open sores or wounds) on the stomach lining may cause abdominal pain, reduced appetite, colic and poor body condition.
The only way to definitively diagnose gastric ulcers is by passing an endoscope (a flexible tube that allows a veterinarian to see inside the body) through the nose to the stomach. Gastrogard ® and Ulcergard ® , whose active ingredient is omeprazole, are the only FDA-approved medications for treatment and prevention of gastric ulcers and work to inhibit the production of excess stomach acid. In addition to medical care, it is also important to attempt to identify the cause of ulcers to avoid recurrence.
With a veterinarian’s recommendation, horses prone to developing ulcers may receive preventive doses of omeprazole prior to exposure to stressful conditions. There are also many daily supplements on the market that claim to reduce stomach acid or act as stomach buffers, coating and protecting the delicate stomach lining. Feed supplements are not subject to FDA testing, therefore, before using one, check with your veterinarian or select a supplement that has peer-reviewed research available to back up its claims.
The only accurate way a veterinarian can diagnose gastric ulcers is by using an endoscope (a 3-meter long flexible lighted camera), which is passed through the horse’s nose and can allow a direct examination of the stomach lining.