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Gastrointestinal System


Abdominal medicine encompasses a broad variety of systems including the stomach, intestines, liver and kidneys and problems associated with these systems can lead to numerous clinical signs.  These include acute and recurrent colic, weight loss and often poor performance.

We can offer full abdominal investigation, including gastroscopy for gastric ulcers; abdominal ultrasound to evaluate the appearance of the organs; and when required, take samples, e.g. liver biopsy and peritoneal fluid (fluid around the organs) for analysis.


Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome (EGUS) is often associated with poor performance and behavioural problems, recurrent colic, weight loss and a dull hair coat.  Gastric ulcers are a result of several factors relating to changes we have made in the domestication of the horse, for example:

  • feeding them large meals infrequently with periods of an empty stomach
  • increased concentrates in their feed
  • high athletic demands
  • stress
  • stabling

Ulcers develop due to exposure of the stomach lining to acid and this can lead to erosions, chronic pain and inflammation.  This tends to be worse when the stomach is moving and acid splashes around, which occurs during exercise.  Although a horse can be showing clinical signs specific for ulcers, a definitive diagnosis is made via endoscopy of the stomach or ‘gastroscopy’ where the stomach lining is directly visualised with a camera.

Treatment of gastric ulcers can include a course of a drug called omeprazole (Peptizole) which reduces the acidity, amongst other medical options, but an integral part of treatment is dietary management.  This is done by increasing the forage quality and content of the diet; increasing grazing time and the addition of oil to the diet.  


The liver is a hugely important organ with many roles.  When it isn’t functioning normally the symptoms can often be quite non-specific, for example, recurrent low grade colic or weight loss.  The liver has a huge capacity to repair and compensate therefore it is often not until over 75% of the liver is affected before there are any clinical signs.

While ragwort plant toxicity is not often thought of as the cause by owners, liver problems arising from ragwort are on the rise, and are still commonly seen.  These cases carry a poor prognosis as the damage it causes to the liver is irreversible and cumulative. Disease may not manifest until many years after exposure to the ragwort, so current owners are often unaware their horse or pony is at risk.

With increasing frequency we are seeing more subtle liver problems usually a form of hepatitis, and if diagnosed earlier with treatment implemented sooner liver disease can be managed and has a good prognosis.

Investigation of liver problems usually involves blood tests and ultrasound scan and biopsy.  Biopsies are done standing under sedation and is minimally invasive.  Biopsy is low risk and is the only way to ascertain an accurate assessment of liver disease and offer a prognosis.