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Gastroscopy Now Available!

Tacoma Equine is excited to announce that we now offer Gastroscopy!

To introduce this new service we will be posting a few fun blogs about how it works and what you should know. If you are interested in getting your horse scoped for gastric ulcers, give us a call at 253-535-6999 or shoot us an email at!

What is a gastroscope?

A gastroscope is essentially a camera on a long tube used to image the stomach and first section of the small intestine. These scopes are usually are usually 3 - 3.5 meters (10 - 11 feet) in length!

Our MDS-Vet Video Gastroscope is a 3.5 meter scope, allowing us to do full exams on even the biggest of horses.

Why would you need a gastroscope?

A gastroscope is particularly useful in definitively diagnosing stomach ulcers including what part of the stomach is affected and how badly it is affected. These scopes can also be useful in severe choke cases for evaluating the entire esophagus or to visualize the stomach for other reasons (cancer, delayed gastric emptying, etc).

Can’t you just treat for gastric ulcers without a scope?

Sure, you can. However, you won’t know at the end of the treatment if lack of clinical improvement is due to the fact that your horse didn’t have ulcers to start with or if your horse had a more severe or difficult form of ulcers. More severe or certain types of ulcers may need a longer course of treatment than the usual 28 days for squamous ulcers. Additionally, proper treatment for gastric ulcers can be multiple times the cost of a scope, and if your horse didn’t need the treatment to start with then that may be wasted funds and time chasing ulcers that were never there.

How does a gastroscopic exam work?

The horse is fully fasted (no hay, grain, pasture, etc) and in an unbedded stall or dry lot for at least 14 hours prior to the exam. At the start of the exam, the patient is given a sedative, similar to what is used for a dental float. The gastroscope is then passed into the stomach via the nostril and esophagus and air is added to the stomach to allow for proper viewing. The veterinarian then examines the entire stomach, looking for irritation, erosions and ulcerations in the epithelium of the non-glandular (squamous) and glandular regions as well at the pylorus, which is where the stomach and duodenum (small intestine) connect. Water may be used to remove any debris that is stuck to the stomach lining. At the conclusion of the exam, the air that was added to the stomach is removed and then the gastroscope is carefully pulled out, at which time the vet will also observe the condition of the esophagus. The veterinarian will grade the condition of the stomach on a scale of 0 (normal) to 4 (full ulceration) and make treatment recommendations based on the grading.

What are common risk factors and warning signs of gastric ulcers?

Common risk factors include:

  • Changes in usual routine

  • Concentrate rich, low forage diets

  • Feeding only twice a day

  • Exercise, especially intensive

  • Hospitalization

  • Inconsistent feeding schedule

  • Lay-up

  • Restricted grazing

  • Social regrouping

  • Stall confinement

  • Training

  • Travel

  • Unfamiliar environment

  • Weaning

Warning Signs:

  • Attitude change

  • Decreased performance

  • Excessive time spent laying down

  • "Girthiness" or abdominal discomfort

  • Loose feces

  • Poor appetite

  • Poor body condition

  • Poor hair coat

  • Repeat colic episodes

  • Reluctance to train

  • Weight loss

Stay tuned for future posts with more info about Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome and scoping!

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