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Grain and Gastric Ulcers
My mare was recently diagnosed with significant gastric ulcers. I have had horses in the past with ulcers, but not as significant as hers are. We are starting with 28 days of Gastro Gard, Neigh-Lox, Alfalfa, and as much grazing as possible. I understand that the best thing for ulcer-prone horses is to live out and not have grain. Unfortunately my mare would not be able to live like that. She would walk off all her weight living out. Right now, she is turned out weather-permitting, and is on about 5.5 pounds of 10%/10% textured feed twice a day and I would like to still see her put on some weight. I plan on increasing the amount of times per day she is fed, and changing her grain to something with low starch, high fat? I am wondering what grain is best for ulcer-prone horses aka what is easiest on their stomach with weight-gaining properties? If anyone has any expertise in this area - please let me know! My mare is a 12 y.o. OTTB that does the jumpers. Thanks!
Why do you suppose she'd walk off her weight if she lived out? Would she have company?
Anyway, yes, I'd avoid grain completely if possible, in favour of more forage. Firstly, you don't say if she gets hay - I'd give her that for a start, free choice or in a few small holed nets daily, so she's always got some in front of her & doesn't go hungry. Part of that can be alfalfa, which is high energy and her 'hard feeds' could be beet pulp, soy hulls &/or rice bran, which are all high energy feeds. Including adequate nutritional supps to this, including essential fatties will also help her utilise her food.
I imagine that the vet already explained that getting grain & only 2 largish feeds daily is a common cause of ulcers, colic, etc. and is likely at least part of the reason she's a 'hard keeper'. Uncooked grain is hard to digest and big meals go through the stomach without much digestion anyway. The hind gut is ill equipped with enough organisms to break down the feed if it's not fed little & often, and a large dose of starch hitting the hindgut produces a lot of lactic acid, which not only damages gut lining but kills off the micro organisms & then leaves it with less ability to digest future meals. That means that the horse can effectively starve even if being fed sufficiently. Often owner's response to weightloss is to increase the grain ration, which can just exacerbate the situation further.
She is fed free-choice hay, alfalfa cubes 1x per day, and is turned out on grass weather-permitting. She is turned out with another horse that she likes.
I second Loosie's comments- feeding any amount of grain has been linked with a significantly higher chance of developing ulcers, so switching to a grain-free diet can be highly beneficial to a horse being treated for them.
You should also see your mare gaining and maintaining weight much better as the ulcers are treated, so the concern of her burning off too much energy in turnout might disappear before too long. Being cooped up in a stall all day is yet another risk factor for ulcers, though the free choice hay which you are feeding goes a long way to help with that.
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