By Clair Thunes
Q.In an attempt to reduce my horse’s risk of developing gastric ulcers, I feed a supplement that is a stomach buffer twice a day with meals and before I ride. Is there any risk to my horse of doing this every day?
A.Horses are at risk of developing gastric ulcers in part because they constantly secrete stomach acid. This is different than you and I, who secrete acid in response to meals. The horse’s continuous acid secretion results from horses evolving to eat almost constantly around the clock. In their natural setting where they are consuming lots of fibrous, mostly low-nutritional-value forage, horses need to eat most of the day and night to consume enough calories to maintain condition.
As horses eat, they secrete saliva in addition to stomach acid. Their saliva contains sodium bicarbonate, which acts as a buffer, helping reduce stomach acidity. In a natural setting or when horses are allowed to consume unlimited forage, this system works very well. The constant chewing results in constant release of buffered saliva to balance the acidity of the constantly secreted stomach acid. The forage itself can also act as a buffer, helping raise pH.
When horses receive diets low in forage or don’t eat constantly but instead are meal-fed, periods pass when the constantly secreted stomach acid is not being as well-buffered. This can result in the stomach becoming increasingly acidic and increases the risk of gastric tissue ulceration.
What Is a Stomach Acid Buffer?
Buffers are substances able to resist pH changes by absorbing both acid and alkaline ions. A buffer can resist pH change and maintain the solution’s pH but is consumed in doing so, meaning it doesn’t last forever. As long as the buffer is not completely reacted, the pH will not change dramatically. As the buffer is depleted, the pH may go up or down more rapidly.
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