What is Equine Metabolic Syndrome?
There is no cure for equine metabolic syndrome. The only thing you can do as a responsible horse owner is to provide lifestyle changes that will enable your horse to be comfortable. Your veterinarian will provide you with information on changes that can be made. A specialist may be consulted to set a long term treatment plan and ensure that your horse’s quality of life is maintained.
Certain breeds of horses are more likely to develop EMS; those include Welsh, Dartmoor, Shetland ponies, Paso Finos, Saddlebreds, Morgans, Warmbloods and Spanish Mustangs. EMS is becoming more prevalent in Quarter Horses and Tennessee Walking Horses. It is very rare in Standardbred and Thoroughbred horses.
Equine metabolic syndrome or EMS is most common in horses between the ages of 8 and 18 years. It is often confused with Cushing’s disease since insulin resistance is a symptom in both illnesses. EMS is also known as peripheral Cushing’s disease, pre-laminitic syndrome or Syndrome X. Equine metabolic syndrome is believed to occur when your horse is unable to properly metabolize carbohydrates and has exaggerated glucose responses before developing insulin resistance.
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Symptoms of Equine Metabolic Syndrome in Horses
Should you notice a change in your horse or any of these symptoms, have your veterinarian do a full assessment of your horse. Diagnosing EMS quickly is key to effectively treating the disease.
- Swollen feet or hooves
- Long, shaggy coat
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Swollen belly
- Weight loss
- Skin infections
- Recurrent infections
Causes of Equine Metabolic Syndrome in Horses
Equine metabolic syndrome has symptoms similar to Cushing’s disease, but it is a completely different disease and has different underlying causes. Some researchers believe that EMS could be a contributing factor to horses developing Cushing’s disease.
EMS occurs when the adipose tissue, or fat cells, produce high levels of a protein hormone called adipokines and increase the amount of cortisol being released into the body. Your horse’s normal reaction to these hormones is disrupted and that causes high blood glucose concentrations. Your horse then cannot metabolize carbohydrates, sugars or starches.
Diagnosis of Equine Metabolic Syndrome in Horses
A thorough physical examination will be the starting point for your veterinarian. Any unusual symptoms will be noted and your veterinarian will have an idea of what they may be searching for.
A routine complete blood count along with serum chemistry will be completed. Your veterinarian may check your horse’s blood insulin levels to look for excessively high numbers. A definitive diagnosis may be confirmed with a Combined Glucose-Insulin Test (CGIT).
Treatment of Equine Metabolic Syndrome in Horses
While there is no cure for equine metabolic syndrome, lifestyle changes can be made for your horse to improve their quality of life and reverse EMS. Your veterinarian will discuss treatment plans with you. Lifestyle changes that can be made for your horse include:
- Caloric intake reduction. Give moderate quality grass hay – 1 ½ % of your horse’s ideal weight
- Do not give any supplements that are soybean meal based or have high sugar content
- Eliminate simple sugars or carbohydrates
- If pasture fed, use a grazing muzzle and only allow grazing in the morning; sugar content rises as your horse is exposed to the sun
- Beet pulp is acceptable as long as it does not contain molasses
- Do not feed any grains, apples, carrots or other sweet feeds
- There are commercial feeds that are formulated specifically for horses with EMS
- A chromium supplement may be recommended with a magnesium supplement to ensure that your horse is getting the recommended daily dietary dose of calcium to magnesium ratio of 2 to 1
- Start an exercise program or increase daily exercise. Be sure to consult your veterinarian prior to starting an exercise program to ensure that your horse is healthy enough for the increased activity
Recovery of Equine Metabolic Syndrome in Horses
Your horse can live a quality life even having been diagnosed with equine metabolic syndrome. Your commitment to controlling the disease is essential to your horse’s overall health. Lifestyle changes will need to be made for your horse including dietary needs and exercise. After the initial diagnosis is made, your veterinarian will put a long term treatment plan in place to control the symptoms and ensure that your horse is not suffering.
Always consult your veterinarian when starting new supplements, feeds or exercise programs with your horse to ensure that these are the best options for your horse. Be sure to complete any scheduled follow up visits or routine visits with your veterinarian to closely monitor your horse’s progress.