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Detecting Colonic Ulcers in Horses: Key Blood Indicators and the Importance of Stool Samples

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Colonic ulcers are a common and often undiagnosed issue among horses. These painful sores in the lining of the colon can lead to a range of problems, including changes in behavior, performance, and overall health. Timely detection and proper diagnosis are crucial for effective treatment. In this SEO-optimized blog, we'll explore how to recognize colonic ulcers in horses, the blood indicators to look for, and why taking a stool sample is essential for an accurate diagnosis.

Recognizing the Signs

Colonic ulcers can be challenging to diagnose based solely on clinical signs, as they often present with vague and non-specific symptoms. However, there are several key indicators that may suggest the presence of colonic ulcers:

  1. Changes in Behavior: Horses with colonic ulcers may exhibit signs of discomfort, such as increased irritability, aggression, or reluctance to work. Some horses may become more anxious or depressed.

  2. Altered Appetite: A decrease in appetite or unexplained weight loss can be an early sign of colonic ulcers. Horses may also show a reluctance to eat or drink.

  3. Poor Performance: Colonic ulcers can affect a horse's performance. You may notice a decrease in stamina, endurance, or a general lack of enthusiasm during training or competition.

  4. Digestive Issues: Some horses may experience recurring episodes of mild colic, diarrhea, or loose stools.

Blood Indicators to Consider

To support the diagnosis of colonic ulcers, veterinarians often perform blood tests. Here are some key blood indicators to look for:

  1. Complete Blood Count (CBC): An elevated white blood cell count may indicate inflammation, while a decrease in red blood cells could suggest chronic blood loss, often associated with colonic ulcers.

  2. Serum Amyloid A (SAA): SAA is a protein produced during inflammation. Elevated SAA levels can indicate ongoing inflammation, which may be present due to colonic ulcers.

  3. Fibrinogen: Increased levels of fibrinogen are associated with acute inflammation or infection, which can be a response to ulcers.

  4. Electrolyte Imbalance: Colonic ulcers can lead to electrolyte imbalances. High chloride and low potassium levels may be indicative of this condition.

Why Take a Stool Sample

While blood tests can provide valuable information, they don't directly confirm the presence of colonic ulcers. To achieve a more accurate diagnosis, veterinarians often recommend taking a stool sample. Here's why it's important:

  1. Detecting Blood in Stool: Colonic ulcers can lead to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in the presence of blood in the feces. A fecal occult blood test can identify microscopic amounts of blood that may not be visible to the naked eye.

  2. Assessing Digestive Function: A stool sample can help assess the horse's digestive function, including the presence of pathogens or imbalances in gut flora that may contribute to the development of ulcers.

  3. Guiding Treatment: Accurate diagnosis through stool samples allows veterinarians to tailor treatment plans specifically to the horse's condition, promoting faster recovery and improved well-being.


Colonic ulcers can significantly impact a horse's overall health and performance. Recognizing the signs and symptoms is the first step towards diagnosis. Blood indicators, such as CBC, SAA, and fibrinogen, can provide valuable information. However, taking a stool sample remains a crucial diagnostic tool for confirming the presence of colonic ulcers, assessing digestive function, and guiding effective treatment. If you suspect your horse may be suffering from colonic ulcers, don't hesitate to consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and appropriate management. Your horse's well-being and performance may depend on it.

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