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  • Writer's pictureVerna Lum

Hind Gut Health and Ulcers

Updated: Sep 18, 2018

Studies have shown gastric lesions are prevalent. As many as 90% of race horses, 60-80% of competitive horses and 25-50% of foals have some form of gastric and/ or hindgut ulcers.

Unfortunately gastric ulcers are prevalent and will negatively impact nutrient absorption, so no matter how good your feed program is, without good hind gut health protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals will be poorly utilized

Horses are grazing animals and their digestive system is designed to consume forage 24/7 because they produce gastric secretions 24/7 regardless if they are eating or not. “Chewing” produces saliva which contains the bicarbonate ion which neutralizes these gastric secretions and therefore, protects the mucosal lining from developing ulcers or sores in the digestive tract.

Horses who have some forage in their stomach will perform better during training sessions because it will provide a barrier to help reduce the amount of “back splash” of the gastric secretions to the upper regions of the stomach and esophagus during exercise. Grinding teeth, head tossing, tail swishing, reluctance to go forward, missing fences are symptomatic for gastric ulcers. Try feeding your horse a flake of hay or soaked alfalfa cubes with a bicarbonate buffering agent such as Gastric Shield prior to training session which will help prevent ulcers from developing.

Hind gut ulcer is another area where ulcers can occur and the risk increases when large amounts of grain are fed (>4 lbs per 1000lb horse).

With horses, nearly 60% of crude protein and nearly all soluble carbohydrates or NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) are enzymatically digested in the foregut and the remaining complex fibres (structured carbohydrates) are digested in the hindgut with the aid of the “good microbes” by bacterial fermentation.

In many cases of high grain feeds (>4lbs per feeding), some of the simple or soluble carbohydrates will not be digested in the small intestines and reach the hind gut. These simple carbohydrates will be rapidly fermented producing gas and lactic acid. The hindgut pH becomes very acidic which can lead to colic, laminitis and hindgut ulcers.

A slow steady rate of fermentation is essential for good gut health, and the best way to avoid gastric and hindgut ulcers is to feed the horse as naturally as possible to reduce the risk of overloading the hindgut with soluble non-structural carbohydrates (sugar, fructans and starch). Aloe Vera, beet pulp and afalfa are excellent sources of fermentable fibres which will help nourish the “good microbes” and will help ensure good gut health, especially if horses have been on drug treatments such as bute or proton inhibitors (omenaprazole, ulcer guard).

Horses with metabolic conditions such as Cushings, diabetes, chronic low grade colic symptoms should be on a low NSC diet and it would be best to have your hay analyzed balanced with a low cereal grain.

For more information, please contact us at 905 691 9725 or email


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