The curse of Ulcers - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 11:36 AM Thread Starter
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The curse of Ulcers

A case of acute ulceration

A painful piece of paper came through the letterbox today it was a bill for almost £1750 - say in round figures $2500 representing the testing for, the finding of and the medication to treat ulcers. Luckily my mare is covered by horse insurance for the vet’s bills.

As I looked down the bill I see the amount for the drugs proscribed - £800 say $1200. Some pharmaceutical company is making a fortune. But as you might guess, if questioned they’d say :
“Wasn’t your horse worth it?” In this case I must answer: ‘yes’. But can I always say that?

I have absolutely no idea as to why she became infested with ulcers -
apparently she has level 4, the most serious condition and what is more she has been suffering for some time. The photos are attached.

How we got to the diagnosis is worthy of discussion but maybe this is not the place for a detailed review of how I insisted that there was something wrong with her; something which would give her pain enough to make her highly disagreeable - in fact dangerous to handle. My guess is that the staff at the clinic thought I was a silly old man who was imagining her pain. Even on the day the ailment was discovered we had already been told by two vets that ulcers were unlikely. They suggested that some early signs of arthritis were the most likely cause of any pain, but I knew better. Finally at around 2.30 - five hours after entering horse clinic, she was finally diagnosed with ’chronic ulceration’. We left with the gold dust - the medication.

She’s been dosed up with medication now for a couple of weeks and soon we shall find out if the ulcers have started to heal over. The insurance company will probably cover her against ulcers reappearing for twelve months as a maximum. After that the bills will be for me personally.

The problem is that since I do not know how she ’caught’ them , how can I make sure it doesn’t happen again? Are the walls of her guts damaged irreparably by the existing invasion of the sores and open scars? What shall I do if they return?

One thing is for sure, the ideas I once had about passing her on as a sports horse are now out of the question. If in future she is exerted to any stress then in theory the ulcers will return. If she goes through an inadvertent period of malnourishment they might return. If she comes under stress in her environment, they might return. And if she has reason to undergo another batch of treatment, the question arises as to whether I should let her be subjected to it. After all, she has got that funny cough, which is nothing to do with infection and also an Xray which shows the first signs of arthritis in her wither. and we still don’t know why sometimes she stands oddly.

Today she is standing listless and still in her paddock. On a sunny day she is taking in the rays. She has no energy even if I only work her gently on the lunge. Any effort seems to exhaust her.
Is that the side effect of the treatment or is it the healing process?

On Thursday we take her down to have the camera stuffed down her throat again. There will be the journey, the arrival at a strange place which smells funny and the humans in white coats. Will she panic when she sees the vet approaching? That horrible man will first prick her with the needle and then move towards her with the invasive camera.

As her carer I am supposed to be positive, but I don’t feel that way.
Apparently it is all for her own good - but how can I tell her that?

Last edited by xxBarry Godden; 03-25-2012 at 11:41 AM.
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post #2 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 11:48 AM Thread Starter
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Ugh - not a pretty sight
Attached Images
File Type: jpg DiDis ulcers snipped.jpg (18.7 KB, 99 views)
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post #3 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 02:32 PM
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You've now arrived at the conclusion that competitive dressage is not for DiDi, & I am rejoicing at that news.

If you'd tell DiDi, Barry, of your conclusion, I think it'd perk her up tremendously.
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post #4 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 02:45 PM Thread Starter
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Northern, I would have liked to see her earn a rosette at the Nationals - it would have been the culmination of a year's good work but I've got my doubts now as to whether she'll even make an appearance.

But then what does she do to keep her (and me) amused?
She's heading for being a brood mare and I am not sure about her maternal instincts.
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post #5 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 02:53 PM
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I'm sorry, Barry. Poor DiDi and ouch at those bills.

From what I know of my own ulcer-related experiences, putting her on a ulcer supplement will keep them at bay and usually reduce any flare ups that may occur again. My mare is on Ugard and has been for over a year. So far so good.

As for reasoning behind the ulcers, is she normally a calm, easy going mare or is she anxious, nervous, kind of "always has her panties in a knot"? My mare is the latter, which caused her ulcers. She wasn't being shown, she was pasture kept with no grain, so she had no reason other than her uptight personality. Mine didn't show any signs of ulcers until they must have flared up terribly and I couldn't so much as brush her belly without being kicked at. In addition to Ugard, I keep her on SmartCalm to help the anxiety.

Also the showing in general might just be stressful for her as it is for many horses. Unlike Northern, I don't think it's that she can't do dressage, it's just stressful for them as it's stressful for the riders.
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post #6 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 02:54 PM
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I'm really sorry to hear of DiDi's illness, but so gratified for you that your instincts were proven right.

There has been a lot of lay person/horse owner material published in the last couple of years about the incidence of ulcers in horses of various types. If I recall correctly, one research paper stated the prevalence of ulcers in horses tested while they were in work or training was around 70%. Sometimes just a travel day would set things off. So, I would guess that DiDi isn't the only horse in her barn with ulcers....the others just aren't diagnosed or treated yet.

As far as treatment and future prevention, the same meds that are used for treatment may be purchased for preventative, in a smaller dose, at least here in the US. Also human anti-acid meds (omeprazole) are used, although it takes a lot of small pills and one has to figure out how to get them into the horse reliably. Grains or feeds with carbohydrates have been proven to increase the ulcer tendencies, while alfalfa hay in particular seems to heal and soothe the stomach. Turnout and grazing is best, frequent feedings better than infrequent, and schedules for work and play are important.

I'm the first one to say, 'let a horse be a horse'. When my youngster had ulcers from his training as a 3 year old, he came home and went straight to pasture with his mum and familiar pasture-mates, and stayed there for several months without any work or stress that could be avoided. However, you may not need or want a pasture ornament with as much potential as DiDi.

Perhaps a balance can be found where the tendencies to ulcers can be managed or controlled with the right combination of training, diet, meds, mental relief and physical recreation. I'm hoping that DiDi's recovery is swift and her spunk and spirit come back soon to put a smile on your face.
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post #7 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 03:00 PM
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Sorry to hear about this setback-but glad you kept at it & went with Your gut. She is such a lovely mare,I hope some kind of comprimise can be found so that she has a good quality of life & is useful. Hope she feels better soon, & thanks for letting us know how she is.
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post #8 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 03:06 PM
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DiDi first needs a restart; a foundation with a Friendly & skilled human, to erase all of the treatment that led to the ulcers, by showing her that a human can have the Friendliness & skill to give her an enjoyable under-saddle experience.

Of course, if you think a broodmare career'd be best for her, no therapeutic restart'd be necessary.
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post #9 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 03:28 PM Thread Starter
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Well, Northern I hope she would see me as a friendly human.
We have already started gentle lunge work and then there are games to play in hand. She's not put under stress in any way.

But whether we can ever make this horse fret free is open to doubt. If she were ever to grow out of her fears then by now I think she would be calm when out on the country lanes and she is not. This realisation was behind my letting her be trained for dressage. I am not a fan of show jumping or even more so, eventing. The potential damage to the legs is significant.

The problem remains, she has to have a role in life. I had thought dressage was the easiest way to earn her pension. I am not so sure her being a pasture mum will suit her personality. But I am going to make a few enquiries on her behalf.

Last edited by xxBarry Godden; 03-25-2012 at 03:30 PM.
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post #10 of 19 Old 03-25-2012, 03:50 PM
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I've also heard that ulcers are fairly common, and the blame was put on not only stress but grain and less-frequent feeding schedules, instead of the eat-grass-all-day-long routine.

I feel that most horses accept maternal duties quite well. Don't worry about THAT until it happens! The fact that she used to be sweet and quiet is encouraging. I too am kind of glad she's getting out of competitive dressage, in spite of her talent; my hope is that you and she will find your way along the trails one day.

By the way, your vet bills are about average around here; and the more popular vets expect a check made out before they leave!
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