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Monday, 21 August 2017

How To Treat a Horse With Cushing's Disease

What Is Cushing's Disease?   

Cushing's Disease (otherwise known as pars intermedia dysfunction) is caused by a dysfunction or, more commonly, a tumor of the pituitary gland.  The gland will then send signals to the rest of the body to produce a stress hormone called cortisol.  This disease is common on older horses although it can occasionally show in horses of any age.  
Insulin and blood sugar may not being working properly.  A horse that has been diagnosed with Cushing's disease will need special care to ensure that their diet doesn’t contain a high amount of sugars and starches.  Use only feed designed for horses with this disease and test forage to ensure a diet of low sugar and high fiber is reached.   

What are the symptoms? 

  • Long curly hair (Hypertrichosis) 

  • Delayed or strange shedding  

  • Laminitis  

  • Change in conformation.  This is usually a decrease in muscle and fat building in certain areas to create a sunken back and a big belly.   

  • Overly thirsty and therefore urinating too much.   

  • Blindness (Neurological deficit) 

  • Strange sweating  

  • Infertile 

  • Weight loss  

  • Ulcers in the mouth  

  • An increase risk of infection    

If your horse has one or more of these symptoms then please contact your vet immediately.  A horse that has Cushing's disease will need constant care and medication to maintain their health so it is important to ensure your horse gets the tests and care it needs.  

How to treat it? 

Cushing's disease will require medication to control the disease as there in no way to actually treat it.  A horse will never recover from Cushing's disease meaning the horse will always have it.  There are a few things that need to be controlled if your horse has been diagnosed with Cushing's Disease.   


A horse will need medication for all of their life if they have Cushing's disease.  Pergolide is usually the medication of choice.  A horse will require a stronger dose at the start of the treatment and may be decreased if the horse reacts well.  The horse will have to be on this medicine for the rest of its life.  

A horse with Cushing's disease  will be prone to laminitis.  This means you need to ensure that the horse's forage and food does not contain a large amount of sugars and starches.  The best diet for this type of horse will be a low sugar and high fibre.  You should test grass and hay to ensure you know what your horse is consuming.   
Unfortunately, the horse will most likely lose weight as part of this disease.  This is made worse by having to restrict the diet to avoid laminitis.  If your horse loses weight, then you can add extra fat into the diet to help with weight gain.  It is best to contact an equestrian nutritionist to get the best possible diet plan.   
With regards to the longer hair, if your horse cannot lose this hair at all you can clip them.  This will help limit the excessive sweating and make them overall more comfortable.   
Lastly, the horse will be more likely to contract infections.  Be sure to fully clean and look after any cuts carefully.  If your horse has started to act ill then phone the vet immediately as there could be an infection inside the body.   


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