SmartPak Equine - Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing's Syndrome


What is Cushing’s syndrome?

Cushing’s is a disease of the endocrine system. It is caused by an abnormality of the pituitary gland, which makes the body produce excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol.1 While thought to be primarily a disease of older horses, it can also affect horses as young as ten.

What are the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome?

Symptoms include:2
  • A coarse, wavy coat that fails to shed out
  • Excessive thirst (may drink as much as 20 gallons/day)
  • Excessive urination
  • “Pot-bellied?appearance
  • Low energy level/depressed
  • Eye tumors or blindness
  • Compromised immune system
  • Laminitis
  • Increased appetite w/no weight gain
  • Loss of muscle over the topline
  • Blood tests may indicate high blood sugar and high blood fats, anemia, reduced lymphocyte counts, and electrolyte derangements

How is Cushing’s syndrome treated?

Treatment of Cushing’s is difficult, and may be both expensive and long-term. There are ways to manage Cushing’s in order to make sure a horse is as comfortable as he can be. With a proper management plan approved by a veterinarian, many horses with Cushing’s can end up leading long, happy lives. Below are some suggestions that may be appropriate for your horse.

Some research has shown that Cushing’s can be managed using:3

  1. Nutrition

    Recently, there has been development of some herbal products such as APF, although research on their success rates is limited.

    Because a lot of older horses have trouble chewing, add water to their food to make sure it is soft to aid in proper digestion.

  2. Medication

    Pharmaceutical treatments for Cushing’s syndrome include pergolide and cyproheptadine. While these two drugs actually have different functions, they have essentially the same end result: to prevent the overproduction of the body’s steroid hormone.4 Be sure to contact your veterinarian if interested in these treatments, as results tend to vary.

  3. Comfort

    Because horses with Cushing’s do not shed out the way other horses do, clipping their coat in warm weather is essential to guaranteeing their comfort. 5

    In order to make sure that a horse is using his digested food for physical energy rather than temperature control, be sure to keep him blanketed when it is cooler outside. It is also important to keep up his physical strength with light exercise, like hand-walking.6

Cushing’s is sometimes called. . . 7

  • Equine Cushings disease (ECD)
  • Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID)
  • Hyperadrenocorticism

As with all medical issues, please contact your local veterinarian for more information specific to your own horse.

    1 Kellon, E. “Herbal Offers Hope for Cushing’s Syndrome.?Horse Journal, 7(12), 2000.
    2 Ibid.
    3 Harmon, J. “The Role of Nutritional Therapy in the Treatment of Equine Cushing’s Syndrome and Laminitis.?Thorne Research Group, Inc. and Gale Group, 2001.
    5Emmet, P., Emmet, V. & Haffner, J. “Cushing’s Syndrome in Horses.?br> 6Ibid.
    7The Wee Little Farm Equine Rehab Center. “Cushing’s Syndrome Definitions, Explanations and Medications.?, 8/8/03.
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