11/09/2001 1:00AM

Medication to combat ulcers

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Ulcers are quite common in horses, and one medication, GastroGard, has become popular with trainers and veterinarians since the pharmaceutical company Merial introduced it in the United States in March 1999.

GastroGard, the brand name for omeprazole, which is also used in humans to treat ulcers, inhibits acid production in the stomach. There are other medications used to combat ulcers in horses, including Zantac and Tagamet, which are popular medications for humans. But some veterinarians believe horses are more responsive to GastroGard, which comes in an oral paste form and is the only FDA-approved product on the market to treat ulcers in horses.

"The GastroGard absorbs well and therefore horses really respond to it," said Dr. Albert Saer, a veterinarian at New York racetracks.

The downside to GastroGard is its cost. Saer said a typical daily dose is $40.

"The idea is after the initial treatment of two weeks, you try to taper down the dose, if you can," said Saer, who noted treatment length is not the same for every horse. "Most horses have ulcers, but you have to determine if it's affecting their performance. Ulcers have become a hot topic at vet meetings."

Richard DeStasio, a Belmont Park-based trainer, said three-quarters of the 27 horses in his barn are being medicated for ulcers. One of those horses,

5-year-old Doctor Cat, has been on some form of ulcer medication since he was 3. The gelding, who DeStasio said is a large horse, is currently on daily doses of GastroGard.

"We had to increase the GastroGard dosage from one and half to two because he is a big horse," said DeStasio, who noted Doctor Cat didn't respond as well to Zantac.

Diet and stress related to training, racing, and shipping are just some of the causes of ulcers in horses. Some of the signs a horse is suffering from ulcers are disinterest in eating, teeth grinding, a dull coat, and declining performance levels. Sometimes there are no symptoms.

An endoscopic exam of the horse's stomach is the only way to reveal the presence of ulcers.

AAEP convenes in San Diego

Veterinarians from all over the world will meet later this month for the American Association of Equine Practitioners' 47th annual convention in San Diego, Calif.

The AAEP convention, which annually attracts more than 2,500 veterinarians, making it the largest veterinary conference in the world, runs Nov. 24-28.

This year, nearly 100 sessions are on the schedule, including discussions on lameness, the use of frozen semen, osteoarthritis, pediatrics, and the use of antimicrobials. Wet lab sessions, which offer hands-on training, will provide instruction on dentistry, lameness, neurology, reproduction, and ultrasound.

Featured speakers include Dr. James N. Moore, who will discuss equine gastrointestinal disease. Moore will deliver the Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture, "A New Look at Intestinal Displacements and Endotoxemia in Horses."

The keynote speaker, Dr. Morgan MacArthur, will open the convention with his thoughts on coping with the professional and personal demands of operating a veterinary practice.

"The AAEP strives each year to present the most up-to-date information on the scientific, political, ethical, economic, and social issues that affect the practitioner and the horse," said Dr. Jerry B. Black, AAEP president-elect and program chairman of the convention. "Many of the world's leading equine experts have been selected to speak, and we are excited to build on the excellence of previous conventions."

Horseman's Day, the AAEP's daylong equine health seminar for horse owners, which is conducted as part of the convention, will be held on Nov. 25. Six educational sessions are on the agenda, including trailer loading, equine emergencies, and colic.

Convention attendees can also take part in a sold-out trade show featuring the newest developments in veterinary medical technology, supplies and services.