Gastroscopy allows viewing of the oesophagus, stomach and proximal duodenum using a long (3m) endoscope. Ulcers are graded on a scale of 0 to 4:
Clinical signs of gastric ulceration include:
- Poor appetite or a failure to eat up concentrate feed
- Low grade colic
- Loss of body condition
- Dull coat
- Occasionally crib biting
Clinical signs can help suggest the presence of gastric ulcers but currently the only definitive means of diagnosis is by gastroscopy.
Gastric ulcers are caused by an imbalance between aggressive and protective factors within the stomach. They result may be from the mis-management of horses usually under intensive management. Horses have evolved as ‘grazers’, to allow a constant flow of food through their digestive tract. They continually secrete hydrochloric acid into their stomachs, even in the absence of food. Food deprivation leaves the acid in the stomach un-buffered, and therefore the acid attacks the stomach lining. Transport, intense exercise and other forms of stress, which can increase acid secretion can further exacerbate this.
The incidence of gastric ulcers varies from about 37% in non-competition horses, to 60% in sports horses, to over 90% in young Thoroughbred racehorses in training. They are also commonly found in sick foals, where the stress of illness acts to increase acid secretion.