By Anthony Blikslager
My mare has a history of equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS). She’s currently at a training barn where several horses receive aloe vera juice (administered orally) to treat ulcers. The trainer would like my mare to be on it too. I visited the Mayo Clinic website and it lists several serious side effects caused to humans by taking aloe vera, which include bleeding, metabolic issues, diarrhea, and stomach cramping. These all seems like they would be bad for a horse prone to gastric ulcers. Is there any research that shows aloe vera is safe to administer to horses or that it helps EGUS?
This is an interesting question and generally brings up the theme of evidence-based medicine and use of supplements for horses. Overall, any standard of care should include “do no harm” as a principle, followed by a hopeful therapeutic or preventive effect.
In the equine industry, we are frequently in a position of not having a great deal of information about treating horses, so many things are done off label or with limited evidence from other areas of medicine. The use of aloe vera for treatment or prevention of stomach ulcers falls into the latter category—we have limited evidence of effect of aloe vera, primarily in lab studies. For example, Aloe vera has been shown to limit ulcer formation in rats in response to ethanol administration. This type of study is a preclinical trial, indicating that it’s not yet ready for clinical use until issues such as dose, dose form (i.e., gel, liquid, tablet), and side effects are worked out.
Using PubMed as my search tool, I found no studies in horses in the mainstream medical literature, no information on the dosage for horses, and no information on the dose form for aloe vera. Lab studies indicate that there are side effects, exactly as mentioned in the reader’s Mayo Clinic link, suggesting that there are dose-dependent irritating and adverse effects of aloe vera.Click here to see more...