Ulcers in Foals

Recent studies have found that over 60% of recent weanlings have ulcers. Ulcers are located in the stomach and consist of erosions of the lining. In severe cases they will be deep enough to bleed.

Young foals suffer from stomach ulcers

This condition can develop when the ration changes from mother’s milk to grain. Add to this the stress of weaning. It is a little easier to understand the effect grain has on the stomach when we see how the horse eats.

When the horse eats grass and hay, they spend some time chewing. The chewing process stimulates release of saliva, which is very high in bicarbonates. When the hay is swallowed it is saturated with these bicarbonates. In the stomach the bicarbonates neutralize the acid. The acid has accumulated in the stomach to predigest foods before they are passed into the intestine.

Without the bicarbonates to neutralize it, the stomach acid will irritate the lining of the stomach. When grain is consumed, it is only briefly chewed. Without the presence of roughage, the grain only needs to be moved to the back of the mouth for swallowing and it has little opportunity to absorb the bicarbs. The presence of feed without bicards will stimulate even more release of stomach acids to help with digestion. You can see where this is going.

Once the ulcer has started, the horse will show several signs. The more common ones are:

  • Weight loss and the reluctance to eat grain, but consumption of hay or grass continues.
  • The stool may become loose for no apparent reason.

The existence of ulcers is often one the foal tries to describe to us without using words (by eating more hay while losing weight). The foal with an ulcer will readily consume hay and grass as the saliva secreted during chewing provides the bicarbs needed to make the stomach feel better. This condition can develop slowly and take a very long time to heal, during which the foal can loose a considerable amount of weight.

Prevent and treat ulcers in horses and foals