Equine Ulcers and Omeprazole
The most commonly embraced western medicine treatment for equine ulcer syndrome is the administration of Omeprazole. This form of treatment can actually be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of a horse long term.
Many horse owners have been taught by veterinarians that they need to treat their horses for 30-60 days with omeprazole followed by a preventative dose daily. This long term use of Omeprazole is often continued for the rest of the horse’s performance career, if not their entire life. Although generic Omeprazole therapy is usually the best option as it costs less than half what the name brands do, any form of this drug can do harm over a long period of time.
The drug Omeprazole works by binding to the H2 receptors in the stomach and preventing them from producing a normal amount of acid. It typically takes five days for the drug to reach its full effect. A normal level of stomach acid is required to digest and absorb a great number of vitamins and minerals and is very important in the breakdown process of protein. One of many common negative side effects of people on long term H2 blocker therapy is a vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the prevention of pernicious anemia, it helps to regenerate damaged nerve tissue and it helps with normal liver function, to name just a few of its beneficial effects. The same thing will happen when we treat horses for long periods of time with these drugs.
In a normal horse who is not suffering from ulcers, the digested food coming from the stomach will usually have a neutral pH (no longer be acidic) a short way down the small intestine. This means that, because it is normal for the acid to be gone from the digested food not far from the stomach, that Omeprazole will only treat stomach (gastric) ulcers. This drug is not effective against ulcers of the small intestine, large intestine, cecum or colon.
Many horses are affected by ulcers at more than one site at a time. It is because of this that Dr. DePaolo always recommends a daily digestive conditioning supplement whenever a horse is being treated with Omeprazole.
To be clear, Dr. DePaolo is a proponent of omeprazole therapy in the short run, especially when it is combined with a medicine that will begin treating the ulcers instantaneously with a fast acting acid blocker. These drug combinations can only be attained from compounding pharmacies thus you need a veterinarian’s prescription.
It is imperative the omeprazole be continued only as long as necessary to heal a stomach ulcer and that the horse be fed a natural digestive supplement such as Excel to heal hind gut ulcers and prevent their reoccurrence. If you successfully treat your horse for ulcers but you don’t eliminate the factors that lead to the ulcer formation in the first place they will return in short order. It is essential that you change the diet to include only anti-inflammatory feeds, no sweet feeds and decrease as much stress as possible for your horse.
If you suspect your horse is suffering from ulcers, Dr. DePaolo has an easy YouTube tutorial on ulcer palpation. To learn more about ulcer treatments and proper nutrition, please visit our Health Library on our website.