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Ulcers: causes, detection and treatment...
ULCERS IN THE FOALS
Recent studies have found that over 60% of recent weanlings have ulcers. Ulcers are located in the stomach and consist of erosions of the lining. In severe cases they will be deep enough to bleed. Apparently this condition develops when the ration changes from motherís milk to grain. Add to this the stress of weaning. It is a little easier to understand the effect grain has on the stomach when we see how the horse eats.
When the horse eats grass and hay, they spend some time chewing. The chewing process stimulates release of saliva, which is very high in bicarbonates. When the hay is swallowed it is saturated with these bicarbonates. In the stomach the bicarbonates neutralize the acid. The acid has accumulated in the stomach to predigest foods before they are passed into the intestine.
Without the bicarbonates to neutralize it, the stomach acid will irritate the lining of the stomach. When grain is consumed, it is only briefly chewed. Without the presence of roughage, the grain only needs to be moved to the back of the mouth for swallowing. It has little opportunity to absorb the bicarbs. Its presence alone will stimulate even more release of stomach acids to help with digestion. You can see where this is going.
Once the ulcer has started, the patient will give us several signs. The more common ones are:
Weight loss and the reluctance to eat grain, but consumption of hay or grass continues.
The stool may become loose for no apparent reason.
The foal with an ulcer will readily consume hay and grass because the saliva secreted during chewing provides the bicarbs to make the stomach feel better. The existence of ulcers is one the foal tries to describe to us without using words [by eating more hay while losing weight]. This condition can develop slowly and take a very long time to heal, during which the foal loses a considerable amount of weight.
Treatment is long term and consists of medications used in human medicine. There is a paste available specifically for horses that will significantly increase the value of the patient. If we think the ulcer is early, we will supplement the feed with bicarbonates in the form of baking soda. Baking soda is readily consumed in the feed and may help prevent formation of more serious ulcers.
We watch the foals playing with each other and pestering mother and we think they have not a care in the world. Actually, they may be taking life more seriously than we think.
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