What is Cushing's Syndrome?
Cushing’s syndrome can be associated with insulin resistance and can be sometimes misdiagnosed as equine metabolic syndrome. Horses of any age can be diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome. Horses over seven years of age are more prone to developing Cushing’s syndrome.
While Cushing’s syndrome in horses can never be cured, as a responsible horse owner you can successfully manage the symptoms associated with the disease. Your veterinarian may even refer you to a specialist to help set a plan to treat the symptoms.
Cushing’s syndrome is also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction or PPID. It is when the pituitary gland dysfunctions due to a tumor developing in the pituitary gland. As the disease progresses, the pituitary gland will send out signals to secrete excessive hormones. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is primarily released and causes negative effects on the body.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Cushing's Syndrome in Horses
Cushing’s syndrome is a serious condition that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. Contact your veterinarian for an appointment and a full physical examination if you notice any changes to your horse.
- Decreased athletic performance
- Long, curly coat
- Delayed shedding
- Developing a rounded abdomen
- Losing muscle mass
- Fat deposits along the neck and near the tail
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Prone to recurring infections
- Excessive sweating
- Weight loss
- Ulcers in the mouth
- Increased neurological problems
Causes of Cushing's Syndrome in Horses
Cushing’s syndrome is caused when a tumor grows in the pituitary gland. The tumor will affect the pars Intermedia, which is the middle region of the pituitary gland. The tumor will begin pressing on the pituitary gland, causing the gland to dysfunction and send out unnecessary signals to the body to excrete extra hormones.
Diagnosis of Cushing's Syndrome in Horses
Cushing’s syndrome can be somewhat difficult to diagnose since many of its symptoms can also be symptoms of other diseases or conditions. Your veterinarian will need to complete a thorough physical examination and will draw blood for a complete blood count and a serum chemistry to begin the process of ruling out other possible causes.
Your veterinarian will use other tests to specifically diagnose Cushing’s syndrome in your horse. The resting Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) level will be measured to identify excess hormones being released. A Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) Stimulation Test will also be performed.
Treatment of Cushing's Syndrome in Horses
Once it is determined that your horse has Cushing’s syndrome, your veterinarian will put a treatment plan in place. There is no definitive treatment for Cushing’s syndrome in horses. Veterinarians will set up a plan that manages the symptoms and controls the disease.
Prascend is an FDA approved prescription medication used in the management of Cushing’s syndrome in horses. It contains pergolide, a drug that has been effectively for several years in the management of Cushing’s syndrome.
Traditional grains and treats are not good for horses diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome because their insulin and blood sugar metabolism may not be properly functioning. Instead, look for low sugar and high fiber horse feed that is made for senior horses. Adding a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement is also recommended. If your horse requires additional calories than what a senior horse feed provides, add fat to their diet.
Horses diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome should be considered as special needs and therefore, in need of extra care and attention. Your horse will be more prone to infections and other problems, daily examines made by you will help catch any problems as they arise.
Make sure that your horse is being seen by their veterinarian at least twice a year, more if their condition deteriorates. Stay on top of any dental work that needs to be done, as well as any hoof care to avoid infections of the mouth or the hoof. Keep your horse current on all required vaccinations and deworming.
Recovery of Cushing's Syndrome in Horses
While your horse will never recover from a diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome, the disease can be manageable. Your veterinarian will provide you with a treatment plan and care instructions so your horse can lead a normal life.
Follow your veterinarian’s care plan and when you notice any changes in your horse, physical or temperamental, have your veterinarian complete a physical examination to ensure that the disease is not progressing or another condition is not developing. Caring for your horse as a special needs horse will be key in maintaining their health and not allowing their quality of life to suffer.