Ask the Vet: Equine Nutrition

Answered by, Lydia Gray, DVM, MA, SmartPak Equine
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: How do you tell if a colt has ulcers? Can you treat them with better nutrition?

Answer: If you suspect your horse has gastric ulcers, no matter the age, it’s always best to schedule a visit with your veterinarian so that a full physical examination and tests can be performed, leading to an accurate diagnosis. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Some signs of ulcers overlap with other, more serious conditions
  2. Better to know what you’re dealing with and be managing it correctly than guessing, which could take longer (and wind up costing more in the end!)
  3. Knowing the severity of the problem will help your vet formulate the most appropriate treatment and management plan.

In general, horses demonstrate discomfort from gastric ulcers in three areas: physical signs, personality changes, and performance issues (not really a factor in a colt).

Physical signs: mild recurrent colic, a lack of energy, weight loss/poor condition, dull hair coat, lack of appetite

Personality signs (again, more common in mature horses): agitation at feeding time, irritability, resistance, poor attitude.

Interestingly, young horses may exhibit two signs that mature horses often don’t: teeth grinding or bruxism and dog-sitting.

If gastric ulcers do turn out to be the culprit, the treatment and management plan will hinge upon how severe your vet determines them to be. It’s possible that in less severe cases, he or she will simply recommend a nutritional approach to support stomach health that includes feed changes and the addition of supplements. However, for higher grades of severity, it’s likely that medications will be prescribed to treat and heal the lesions.

Question: What conditions benefit from Vitamin B in horses?

Answer: The Vitamin B family is made up of several compounds that serve many important roles in the body: protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism; energy production; proper nerve cell transmission; and cell reproduction and division (especially rapidly dividing ones such as red blood cells). B-vitamins include Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6), Folic Acid (B9), and Cyanocobalamin (B12). Choline, Biotin, Inositol, and a few others are sometimes referred to as B-vitamins.

For most of the B-vitamins, microorganisms in the large intestine make all the horse needs. Only Thiamine and Riboflavin have NRC dietary requirements. However, research suggests B-vitamin supplementation may be beneficial to stabled horses with little access to fresh pasture, heavily exercising horses, pregnant and lactating mares, horses with GI conditions that may interfere with normal gut flora, and any periods of stress (injury, illness, shipping, old age, etc.).