Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Echo's ulcers are giving me ulcers

When Echo first arrived at Wyvern Oaks, I was concerned that he had ulcers. He pawed, he chewed his lead rope, he hated being groomed. He wasn't a very good eater, and despite getting huge quantities of high-quality senior grain, you could see every rib. Ulcers can manifest themselves in a number of ways and these were all on the list, so I chatted with my vet about options. We discussed scoping but because hind gut ulcers can't be seen on a scope, opted not to do that. Instead, we decided to try the cheap form of omeprazole, the active ingredient in GastroGaurd. They are fondly known on CotH as "blue pop rocks", and are the granulated, coated form of the drug. We also threw in some magnesium and aloe juice, both of which coat the stomach to help relieve symptoms. Plus, he was out on 24/7 turnout with hay and/or grass in front of him at all times.

After a month of treatment, Echo was a different horse. He had almost completely stopped pawing, even in the trailer. He didn't bite his lead rope. He was fine with being groomed, and had gotten really good about picking up his feet. He was polishing off all his food and was looking plump and fit at the hunter show last weekend. I'd stopped with the omeprazole and was just using the aloe and Mg for maintenance, and was patting myself on the back about being such a good horse mom and all.

And then last Thursday, he wouldn't eat his dinner. Kept acting like he was going to take a bite and then flipping his head. It was the strangest thing - I wish I'd gotten it on video. After an hour he'd only eaten half of his feed. Argh. I started giving him omeprazole again the next day.

This weekend, things got worse. He pawed in the trailer whenever it was stopped. He pawed like a lunatic in the barn aisle, no matter how many times I yelled at him to quit. Not only did he chew his lead while I groomed, he started chewing on the wood half-walls. He pinned his ears, wrung his tail, and kicked out while I was grooming him. Awesome. Practically overnight, there were ribs that hadn't been there a week ago. I noticed chew marks on the water troughs when I went to scrub them out Sunday afternoon. Horses with ulcers often chew things in an effort to find some comfort, as the saliva produced by chewing helps to neutralize stomach acid. I felt like the worst horse mom ever, for him to be in that much pain.

I put a call into my vet first thing Monday. We discussed symptoms and options, and agreed that we're going to have to treat him again and then put him on a maintenance dose. I also asked about using ranitidine (Zantac) to help make him feel better while the omeprazole works. See, ranitidine inhibits acid production, but only for a brief while, whereas omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor. So omeprazole actually helps the ulcers heal, and Zantac helps reduce the pain while they're healing.

Soo, starting last night (Monday), I began giving Echo 20 crushed ranitidine pills on top of a small serving of grain, about 30 minutes before mealtime. This helps give it time to work, with the idea that eating won't be painful. And either it works miracles or the omeprazole has started working, because he polished off his dinner for the first time in several days. Breakfast and dinner today have been likewise consumed, thank goodness. I've ordered more omeprazole, and we'll likely do a 6 week course this time, then see about doing a maintenance dose or using a supplement like SmartGut to help him. He'll likely get ranitidine tablets and probably the treatment dose of omeprazole any time we haul - which is pretty much every weekend, since I haul to lessons.

As for how to change his lifestyle so that he's got less stress in his life, that's a hard one. He's out 24/7 with hay or grass in front of him at all times. We've had a bit of a hectic schedule for the last three weeks, with two shows and an XC schooling session, so I probably need to cut back a bit there. Still, I try to haul to at least one, sometimes two, lessons per week, so that will be an ongoing concern. Hopefully we can come up with a long-term maintenance plan that works for him and doesn't stress him out too much.

At least Costco carries large bottles of ranitidine for cheap? Because seriously, I may start taking it myself.

16 comments:

  1. SmartGut is AMAZING. I would definitely recommend it, it basically treated my mare's mild ulcers and helped a gelding at my barn with chronic ulcers/weight gain issues due to digestion problems. Hope you can find a solution for your guy!

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    1. It's definitely something I'm considering! Thanks for the suggestion!

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  2. Lilly is still on the U-Gard pellets and they seem to be working really well for her. I haven't had to wash butt cheeks in months! Might be something to check into once you get everything stabilized.

    I feel your pain! Hope you and Echo feel better soon!

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    1. I will look into U-Gard too. Soo many options out there, it's hard to know what's right for Echo without doing the trial-and-error process. :(

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  3. Hope he gets better, that would stress me too.

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  4. Ulcers are no fun, the end. :/

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  5. Glad to hear he is eating again!

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  6. Thoroughbreds, I tell ya. At least he's cute. :P
    You'll figure it out!

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    1. I am starting to think that something slightly less high-maintenance might not be a bad idea. Ack.

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  7. I've been through this with Paj, so I know how stressful and scary it is. Hugs to you. We scoped Paj when he started getting fussy about his hay. The ulcers were right where the esophagus meets the stomach. We did a course of GastroGard, and now he gets a half dose in any stressful situation. For us, that's mainly big temperature swings. When a storm is headed our way, he gets a dose the day before, and the day of a storm. We gave him some through the fire. When his allergies are bad, he has to have dexamethasone, which is hard on his stomach, so he gets a dose on those days. What a Prince. It's pricey, but nothing like the money and stress of being in the clinic. That's the goal - keep him out of the clinic - and it's been 2 1/2 years. He lives a very low-key, pleasant life with lots of turnout, so we have no idea why he's so susceptible to ulcers. Dr. Gary says he can't imagine what a mess Paj would be "if he had to be a real horse". Regardless, being pro-active is working for us so far, thank God.

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    1. I appreciate the moral support. I am really worried about how we're going to manage this long-term, especially if Echo is going to be a show horse. :(

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  8. Bummer. Alfalfa is a good acid buffer and helps put weight on, just in case you wanted one more suggestion. It sucks when thin horses refuse to eat.

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    1. Val, he's not a fan of alfalfa (yes, I know he's weird). However, after what just happened with Bo's colic episode, I'm thinking of starting to give everyone a handful or two at every meal. Can't hurt, right?

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