Weight Loss/Digestive Disorders

There are many causes of digestive disorders and weight loss, related to the gastrointestinal system and other body organ systems. Our internal medicine team has particular interests in investigating these cases. This includes taking a detailed history of the patient, clinical and dental examination, rectal examination, blood sampling, gastroduodenoscopy, rectal/duodenal biopsies, dynamic absorption tests, faecal analysis and ultrasonography of the abdomen. Where indicated, surgical exploration of the abdomen may be performed.

Gastric ulcers

Studies have shown that gastric ulceration is an extremely common problem, particularly in racehorses and in foals. Known risk factors are daytime forage deprivation, high concentrate diets, prolonged exercise on an empty stomach and recurrent transport.

Ulcers occur in the oesophagus, the stomach and the first part of the small intestine (duodenum). Signs may include poor performance, weight loss, girthing pain, mild diarrhoea and colic. In foals, teeth grinding and excessive salivation are common. Using gastroscopy to visualise the horse's stomach, we can see whether ulcers are present or not. Once diagnosed, we can offer the most appropriate treatment.

Chronic and Recurrent Colic

Our hospital clinicians deal with a significant number of colic referrals each year. These range from acute cases that come in for emergency investigation and surgery, to detailed investigation of chronic and recurrent colic cases, where horses may need to be hospitalised for an observation period.


Mild diarrhoea in adult horses is frequently associated with stress or a change in diet. However, severe diarrhoea in adult horses and foals can be life threatening and requires rapid intensive care and treatment. These cases are admitted to our isolation unit, as some causes of diarrhoea, such as Salmonella or rotavirus, can be transmitted between horses, or from horse to person. Quick and accurate diagnosis of these diseases can be achieved through the support of our on-site laboratory. Our clinicians and our professional nursing team manage these horses intensively with intravenous fluid therapy and the provision of enteral and parenteral nutrition.

Read our article on Foal Diarrhoea

Diagnostic Facilities

Our clinicians have access to abdominal ultrasound and our videoendoscopy system is of sufficient length to examine and biopsy not only the stomach but also the duodenum in adult horses.  Working closely with our laboratory team, they can rapidly report results of intestinal, liver and renal biopsies.

Internal medicine specialist Celia Marr has a particular interest in applying novel scintigraphic (bone scanning) techniques to identify tumours and abscesses that may be impossible to identify using conventional imaging. Where appropriate, a medical investigation will be conducted in collaboration with colleagues from our surgical team to perform procedures such as laparoscopy of the abdomen (‘keyhole’ surgery).