Home Horse Care Cushing’s Disease in Horses: Important Warning Signs And How To Treat It

Cushing’s Disease in Horses: Important Warning Signs And How To Treat It

by Dani Buckley
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The list of diseases in horses that do not revolve around hooves or their gastrointestinal tract is not very long. One of these diseases is called Cushing’s disease, and we all should know enough about it to understand what it is and what warning signs to look out for.

What is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s disease comes from a condition in the pituitary gland, which is located at the bottom of a horse’s brain, and is also called pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) because of the part of the brain the tumor affects.

The pituitary gland’s job is to regulate hormones in the body and tell other parts of the body to release hormones. When a tumor grows on this gland, it affects the number of hormones being released—one of which is a stress hormone called cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands. What happens if too much cortisol is being released? The body gets a bit out of whack.

horses cushing's disease horseback riding

Signs of Cushing’s Disease in Horses

Unfortunately, Cushing’s takes a while to show all its symptoms, and it make take years to really know if a horse has Cushing’s. Signs of the disease include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Long, usually curly, coat that does not shed or sheds abnormally
  • Weight loss
  • Increased sweating
  • Laminitis
  • More than normal urination
  • Potbellied appearance
  • Fat deposits along the mane
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle wasting

Horses that have Cushing’s may also be more prone to other infections; because of this, injuries and wounds may take longer to heal and should be thoroughly cleaned and cared for.

Treatment and Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease in Horses

Unfortunately, diagnosing Cushing’s disease is not a straightforward process because it can take years for symptoms to manifest. Basic diagnosis can start with a visit to the veterinarian, a list of symptoms a horse is currently experiencing, and bloodwork with specific hormone testing. The specific testing looks for a level of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is released by the pituitary gland and is responsible for signaling to the adrenal gland that it needs to release more cortisol into the body.

The definitive treatment for Cushing’s is still hazy, but there are medications your veterinarian can prescribe and supplements that can help, such as a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Horses with Cushing’s disease should not be fed traditional grains due to sugar levels. Horses with Cushing’s metabolize things differently.

horses cushing's disease

Horses that have been diagnosed with Cushing’s often become special-needs as they require more care. Keeping up with regular farrier appointments can help with decreased risk of laminitis, and regular dental care can ensure teeth are in good condition and confirm there are no oral ulcers.

Horses with Cushing’s also need more regular checkups with the veterinarian and bloodwork testing to ensure their condition is being regulated appropriately.

Cushing’s disease in horses can be a bit intimidating, especially when there are tumors and abnormal hormone levels involved, but with appropriate care and continuing preventative car, horses with Cushing’s can live long and happy lives.

Sources: [1], [2], [3]

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