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Equine Cushing’s Disease

How to spot & manage the condition

How to identify the various signs of Equine Cushing’s disease

Equine Cushing’s disease, also known as PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction), is a common1 hormonal disease affecting 1 in 5 horses over the age of 152 although signs can appear anytime after a horse or pony reaches 10 years old.

 

The signs of Equine Cushing’s disease vary from horse to horse. Sometimes the signs are very obvious; for example your horse may:

 

  • develop laminitis
  • experience repeated infections
  • start to drink and urinate more than usual

 

Sometimes the signs can be more challenging to spot as the onset is slow and some of the signs can be mistaken for signs of aging. For example:

 

  • low energy levels
  • gradual coat changes
  • the development of a pot belly
  • muscle wastage – sometimes associated with a loss in topline – are all potential signs of Equine Cushing’s disease which can be mistaken for the signs of an older horse slowing down
  • Early Recognition
  • Equine Cushing’s Disease Diagnostic tests
  • Managing Equine Cushing’s disease

Early Recognition

Equine Cushing’s disease is a progressive condition associated with a number of symptoms that can adversely affect the quality of life of your horse. So whilst the initial signs that your horse may show might not be of significant concern, for example mild coat changes, it’s likely that over time the disease will progress and more severe symptoms will develop that may have a more significant impact on your horse’s quality of life. Early recognition and diagnosis provides you with more options to implement management and treatment strategies to keep your horse happy and healthy for as long as possible.

Equine Cushing’s Disease Diagnostic tests

It’s important to be aware of any unexpected changes in your horse or pony’s condition once they are over the age of 10, and to let us know so that we can arrange for one of our vets to examine your horse. If we think that Equine Cushing’s disease could be the cause, we partner with Care About Cushing’s to provide our clients with FREE* diagnostic tests for this condition.

We advise that you download the self-assessment checklist on Care About Cushings to investigate whether your horse is showing any signs of this condition. If they are, please give us a call so that we can arrange for one of our vets to visit you.

*free ACTH laboratory test fees only. Visit, blood sampling and interpretation fees may be applied.

Managing Equine Cushing’s disease

Managing Equine Cushing’s disease

Finding out that your horse has a disease can be a worrying time. Rest assured though that a diagnosis of Equine Cushing’s disease does not mean that your horse’s quality of life is going to suffer.

Firstly, it is likely that your vet will prescribe a medical treatment to normalise your horse’s hormone levels and eliminate the signs of this disease. This treatment needs to be administered daily for the rest of your horse’s life, and your horse will need regular check-ups to ensure that they are receiving the appropriate dose. It can take several weeks or even months to see an improvement in clinical signs so it can be useful to keep a diary noting down any changes to discuss with your vet at their next visit.

Your horse’s first check-up will be 4-6 weeks after they start the medication, and they will then need twice-yearly check-ups with at least one review being in the Autumn months.

We partner with Care About Cushing’s to provide one FREE* monitoring test per year for our clients. Visit the Care About Cushings website or ask one of our team if you would like more information about this.

Secondly, it is helpful to review your horse’s nutritional needs with your vet. For most horses with Cushing’s the nutritional requirements are similar to older animals in general, but some horses with this condition have clinical signs such as weight loss, obesity or a predisposition to laminitis. These are important factors to consider when planning your horse’s nutrition.

Thirdly, you should discuss with your vet whether there are any actions you can take to mitigate against the effects of the clinical signs of Equine Cushing’s whilst the medication takes effect. For example, if your horse has shown changes in condition it may be appropriate to re-check their saddle fitting, if they have coat changes you may wish to clip their coat, if they have muscle wastage you may wish to consider a nutritional supplement and exercise regime to support their recovery.

You can find out more about managing a horse with Equine Cushing’s disease by registering on the Care About Cushings website.

References
1. Equine Health Survey 2018
2. McGowan et al 2013. Prevalence, risk factors and clinical signs predictive for equine pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction in aged horses. Equine Vet J 45(1), 74-79

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