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Extension > Horse Extension - Research Updates > Gastric ulcer syndrome and hay

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gastric ulcer syndrome and hay

Alfalfa hay may help with gastric ulcers.

T. Lybbert, P. Gibbs, N. Cohen, and D. Sigler. Texas A & M University

Equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) is recognized as a health problem in horses and can be detrimental to a horse's athletic performance. The increased availability of endoscopic equipment suitable for performing equine gastroscopy has facilitated more routine evaluation of horses for EGUS.

Up to 93% of racehorses and over 60% of arena performance horses have ulcers of varying severity. Factors implicated as contributors to EGUS include stress, feed deprivation, stall confinement, increased intraluminal pressure with dorsal displacement of acid during exercise and intensive training, retention of gastric acid, and diet. These factors may be directly linked to excessive acid secretion and decreased pH, which increases the opportunity for acid-induced injury.

Research has demonstrated stomach ulcers will heal spontaneously if provided a more basic environment. The relationship of diet and gastric ulcers has been the focus of numerous investigators, including a proposal that proteins in alfalfa may offer some buffering capabilities within the stomach and a strong correlation between dietary alfalfa hay and lower degree of gastric ulceration.

The objective of this study was to further investigate antiulcerogenic properties of alfalfa hay. Twenty-four Quarter Horse yearling geldings, in an exercise program, were used and fed either alfalfa or grass hay.

There was no significant difference in ulcer severity score between the groups at day 0, when the study was initiated. There was a significant effect of diet on ulcer score. Horses fed grass hay had higher ulcer scores. The effect of diet was strong, with an estimated effect of increasing the ulcer score by 1.5 times. The alfalfa hay contained 1.5 times the amount of protein and 3.4 times the amount of calcium than the grass hay and may have had buffering capabilities.

Whether or not the differences observed in ulcer score were due to protein intake, protein quality intake, or calcium intake, could not be determined. Additional research is needed to better determine those characteristics in alfalfa that contribute to a decreased severity of gastric ulcers compared to horses eating grasses. In this study, alfalfa hay exhibited preventative or therapeutic capabilities of gastric ulcers in horses.

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