Gastric Health in Horses: Understanding the Digestive System

In the world of equine physiology, the digestive system is a critical component of a horse’s overall well-being. Horses are natural grazers, and their stomachs are designed to continuously produce acid to aid in the digestion of their constant intake of forage. However, the modern practices of horsekeeping and feeding often diverge from these natural behaviors, potentially leading to significant issues in their stomachs.

The Inner Workings of Equine Digestion

To comprehend gastric health in horses, it’s essential to understand how their digestive system functions. The equine stomach is divided into two distinct regions: the glandular mucosa, which covers the lower two-thirds of the stomach, and the non-glandular mucosa, which encompasses the upper third.

The glandular mucosa is responsible for the constant production of stomach acid, essential for breaking down the food ingested by the horse. In addition to acid production, this region generates mucus and bicarbonate, crucial components that serve to protect the stomach lining from excessive acid exposure.

Conversely, the non-glandular mucosa, located in the upper part of the stomach, lacks the natural defenses found in the glandular mucosa. In this area, the stomach contents are mixed, typically with buffering assistance from ingested food and saliva. Consequently, the non-glandular mucosa is more susceptible to the corrosive effects of stomach acid.

Common Gastric Issues in Horses

Unfortunately, when the delicate balance of equine digestion is disrupted, various gastric problems can arise:

  • Acid Buildup: Excessive acid production can accumulate in the non-glandular mucosa, potentially leading to the formation of painful sores as the acid eats through the stomach lining.
  • Exercise-Induced Irritation: During physical exertion, especially if the horse’s stomach is empty, acid may slosh around, leading to irritation of the stomach lining and exacerbating existing sore spots.
  • Dietary Factors: Large grain meals, often incorporated into modern feeding practices, can elevate acid levels in the stomach, heightening the risk of gastric issues for the horse.

Maintaining optimal gastric health in horses is a paramount concern for horse owners and caregivers. Understanding the intricacies of the equine digestive system and how it interacts with modern feeding and management practices is crucial for preventing and addressing potential issues.

By aligning feeding strategies with a horse’s natural grazing habits and incorporating measures to mitigate excess stomach acid production, such as offering small, frequent meals and providing access to forage, horse owners can help safeguard their equine companions from gastric distress. Ultimately, prioritizing gastric health is an essential aspect of responsible horse care and contributes to the overall well-being and comfort of these magnificent animals.

By Staff writer
Photos courtesy of Lyndsey Lamell Photography