Equine Gastric Ulcer Feeding

As if treating Equine Gastric Ulcers is not bad enough, making sure your horse gets the correct diet to help cope with equine gastric ulcers is a real minefield. One of the highest search terms in search engines is Equine Gastric Ulcer Feeding. This means that a large majority of people do not know what they should be giving their horse to eat when it has ulcers. We’ll attempt to breakdown what the feed should contain to help you make an informed. We won’t deal with specific brands in this section, but leave that for a later date when we review different types of commercial food available, and what, in our opinion, contains the most beneficial nutrients to benefit your horse.

What should my horse’s feed contain if it has gastric ulcers?

Ideally, you should be looking at a feed that has reduced or no cereals in it. A recent study found that horses with gastric ulcers (ESGD), the following in general was observed:

  1. Feeding 1% of bodyweight of grain (cereal based) resulted in a marked increase in ulcers in non-exercised horses – the amount was a general increase of 27% chance the horse would develop gastric ulcers.
  2. Feeding 2g/kg bodyweight starch per day or 1g/kg bodyweight per meal more than doubled the risk of gastric ulcers in horses!

So ideally, you should know your horse’s weight, and multiply that by 2, and that is the extreme limit of starch your horse should get per day. Ideally, you should not exceed 1g/kg bodyweight of sugar and starch per day.

Now we know what to try and avoid in your horse’s feed, let’s look at some nutritional values you should look at when choosing a hard concentrate feed if you need to add this to your horse’s diet:

All amounts below referenced are in a % format:

Oil (%) Between 3%-15%
Protein (%) Between 10%-18%
Fibre (%) Between 20%-32%
Starch (%) Between 1% and 7%
Sugar (%) Between 2% and 4.5%
Vitamin A (iu/kg) Between 10 000 and 12 500
Vitamin D3 (iu/kg) Between 1 000 and 1 600
Vitamin E (iu/kg) Between 130 and 215
Selenium (mg/kg) Between 0.3 and 0.9
Digestible Energy (MJ/kg) Between 7.5 and 12, depending on level of work

However, the most important facts to take away from whatever you are feeding is the following:

  1. Minimise sugars and starch. try reduce/replace cereal based feed options with those that are cereal free. You should always remember the following mantra when choosing a concentrate feed: Low Starch High Fibre (If you forget the order, I always think of high -five for high fibre)
  2. This is probably an aspect of feeding horses with gastric ulcers that often gets overlooked: The feeding of forage. Forage in the form of grasses, hay and haylage should form the majority of a horse’s diet. Ideally it should be fed in large quantities.

So how much food does my horse actually need?

As a general rule, a horse needs about 40 calories per kg bodyweight. This is why it is important to know how much your horse actually weights.

So if we look at a concentrated feed designed for your horse with gastric ulcers, and we take an average feed that has 10 MJ of digestible energy, we can convert that to calories. As a rough guide, 1 MJ (Megajoule) of energy equals just under 240 calories. So 1kg of concentrate of 10MJ would equal roughly 2 400 calories.

If your horse weighs 500kg as an example, you would need 20 000 calories per day to keep it in maintenance. A good quality hay has approximately 8MJ of digestible energy in it (approximately 1 912 calories per kg hay) so if you were only feeding hay, you would be feeding 10-12 kg of hay per day, depending on quality and level of work horse is in, as well as taking into consideration if the horse is currently underweight or obese.

Another reason why it is so important to let your horse graze or have access to as much good quality forage as possible is due to the way the horse has evolved. Horses we designed as trickle feeders, this means they were designed to graze and roam around following the best grazing available. Because the horse’s stomach constantly produces hydrochloric acid, even if it is not eating, it requires a large volume of saliva to help coat the stomach lining. The longer a horse chews on its roughage, the longer saliva is produced.

Good quality alfalfa hay for your horse with gastric ulcers

Good quality alfalfa hay for your horse

In a recent study, horses fed hay continuously had less acidity, when compared to horses that were fasted. In another study, horses fed alfalfa hay had significantly less acidity and lower gastric ulcer scores, than horses fed a lesser quality hay. High protein (21 percent) and calcium concentration in alfalfa hay provides buffering of stomach acid up to five hours after feeding. Also, high roughage diets stimulate production of bicarbonate rich saliva through chewing, which may contribute buffering of gastric acid. It is also a great idea to give your horse’s hay in a net that has smaller holes, this will encourage them to chew longer and also reduces boredom.

So this topic of feeding horses with ulcers is very important, and hopefully this will give you a better idea of what you should be feeding them when they have ulcers.

So the take home lesson here should be about the quality of your roughage, and the amount you feed them. If your horse is a good doer, and it is possible, it would be better to reduce your horse’s concentrate feeding and increase the forage available, as fibre is a great way to help reduce the occurrence of gastric ulcers. This is one of the most important aspects in Equine Gastric Ulcer Feeding in your horse.

Further reading:

How to treat Equine Gastric Ulcers