Ulcers or Colic?

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Colic is a common concern for many horse owners and we are trained from an early age to recognize the signs. Gastric ulcers however can present similar symptoms as colic, but the problem occurs in an entirely different part of the digestive system. Not eating or drinking is a shared symptom of both colic and gastric ulcers but there are many other signs that are more unique to each problem.

Colic is a complication in the hindgut of the horse. The hindgut refers to the section of the digestive tract that includes the cecum, large colon, small colon and rectum. This section digests the forage that makes up the majority of the horse’s diet. A severe case of colic can result in a need for emergency surgery, so it is important to watch for those beginning signs to stop it when possible. Repeatedly lying down and getting back up, biting at abdomen, pawing, and lip curling are all warning signs of colic in the horse.

Gastric ulcers occur in the foregut of the horse, essentially the stomach. When your horse’s stomach is empty for periods of time the stomach lining becomes more susceptible to harsh gastric acids, which in turn can cause ulcers. Adding the stress of show, training, travel, etc. can irritate the stomach even more so with performance horses it is important to understand some warning signs. A lack of energy, dull hair coat, teeth grinding, weight loss, and agitation at feeding time can all be indicative of gastric ulcers. The only way to accurately diagnose an ulcer is from a veterinarian exam.

Watch your horse closely for any signs of abdominal pain or any behavior that’s out of the norm, it may be a sign that something is wrong with the GI tract. As with humans, this system is often overlooked but is vital to proper health and development. Check with your veterinarian if you have questions!