Diet for Ulcer Prevention

2 min. readlast update: 04.20.2021

A horse prone to ulcers can benefit from a diet consisting of low starch and high fibre. 

Fibre sources such as hay, haylage and grass are vital for a healthy digestive system and should form the majority of the diet. Fibre also provides the horse with excellent levels of slow release energy and a good source of calories and heat as it is fermented in the body.

Consideration should be given to limiting your horse’s access to starch. Starch is a carbohydrate found in cereal grains such as barley, maize and oats. Carbohydrates provide a good source of fast release energy. 

While starch is not ‘bad’ as such for the horse in small quantities, it can cause problems if the horse eats too much in one meal. The current guideline is to feed no more than 1g of starch per 1kg of body weight (so a 500kg horse could safely be fed no more than 500g of starch at a time).

Useful Tips

  • If your horse needs extra energy, look for feeds that have restricted starch and sugar levels and added oil rather than cereals. 
  • Copra is naturally low in sugars and starches but has a high digestible energy content. Copra may support horses with metabolic disorders including tying up, laminitis or excitable behaviour.
  • Soaked beet pulp has the same caloric value as oats, however, it is fermented in the hindgut.
  • Lupins are high in fibre and protein and low in fat and starch.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids (corn oil, sunflower seeds, or stabilized rice bran), have been shown to stimulate production of protective prostaglandins and increase pH. 
  • Chaffs and hays such as lucerne (also known as alfalfa) are effective in reducing the severity of ulcers by providing superior buffering capacity compared to grass forages. 
  • However, high levels of lucerne hay or chaff may not be desirable for some horses due to its high calorie, protein, and calcium levels. Ideally, lucerne/alfalfa should be included in hard feeds but should not form the basis of ad-lib forage access. Ideal forage for 24/7 access is low sugar grass forages (rhodes hay, teff, grass hay, etc).

The content of this article should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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