Equine Cushings

Equine Cushings: What is it?

Equine Cushings syndrome is caused by a small, benign tumor on the pituitary gland. This gland, located inside the brain, governs the entire endocrine system so a number of conditions are associated with this disease. The pituitary gland is responsible for the production and regulation of hormones. While the tumor itself is benign, the cells within the tumor produce excess hormones, creating an imbalance in the horse’s body. The cause of the tumor itself is not known.

What are the symptoms?

• Abnormal hair growth and shedding. Your horse may develop a coat of heavy, coarse hair that doesn’t shed in summer.
• Increased water consumption.
• Development of a swayback stance and a pot belly.
• Dull eyes and drab coat.
• Increased appetite without weight gain.
• Chronic equine laminitis.
• Loss of muscle over the topline.
• Compromised immune system resulting in respiratory disease, skin infections, abscesses of the foot and periodontal disease.

Where does it come from?

The cause of the tumor is unknown. Horses usually develop Cushings later in life (about 20 years), although it is sometimes diagnosed in horses as young as seven.

How is it diagnosed?

The first diagnosis is often made visually. After identifying the visual symptoms, clinical testing can confirm the diagnosis. The dexamethasone suppression test (DST) requires that the horse gives a small sample of blood then be administered cortisone. A follow-up blood sample is taken the next day. The blood samples are then compared to determine the horse’s response to excess cortisone.

How is it treated?

There are several drug therapies available for treating equine Cushings. Speak with your veterinarian about which might be best for your horse. Pergoglide and cyproheptadine are commonly prescribed. Another drug, trilostane is showing promise.

While the jury is still out of the efficacy of herbal treatments for equine Cushing’s syndrome, there is indication that chaste berry (Vitex agnus castus) may be effective for early stage cases of Cushing’s syndrome.
How is it prevented?Diet is gaining significance in the management of Cushings disease. Antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, could play a role in helping to support Cushing’s horses.

Horses with Cushing’s disease do well on a low-sugar, low-starch diet. Horse hay can be tested for sugar content. Additionally, soaking your hay can reduce water soluble carbohydrates. Speak to your vet or an equine nutritionist for the best feeding program for your horse.

Other management tips include:

• Avoiding stressing the horse.
• Provide adequate water for your horse.
• Feed on a regular schedule.
• Maintain a grooming program to keep skin in good shape.
• Keep an eye on the feet; proper hoof balance is important.
• Provide regular equine dental care deworming and vaccination schedules.

Equine cushings is an easily recognized and treatable disease. When caught early, treatment is very successful, allowing affected horses to live almost normal lives. For those horses in advanced stages of the disease, treatment still offers improved quality of life and longevity.

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