What is Equine Cushings disease? Cushings Disease, scientifically known as PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) which is caused by a change to the pituitary gland in the brain, often due to a benign tumour. In Equine Cushings, the pituitary gland is not able to produce enough dopamine to control the production of all the other hormones this gland is responsible for. This results in too many hormones being produced, including Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and triggers several different symptoms.
How is Cushings diagnosed? There are several symptoms associated with an over production of hormones. These include:
- Fat pads around the eyes
- Poor immune system, lack of energy & fatigue
- Large appetite but difficulty to maintain condition
- Increased thirst
- Patchy sweating
- Recurrent laminitis, due to raised insulin levels
- Abnormal fat deposits on the body
- Hypertrichosis, or the development of a long curly coat and inability to moult
Ultimately, to diagnose Equine Cushings the vet will take a blood sample to measure the level of circulating ACTH and may check for glucose in the urine.
Is there a treatment for Equine Cushings? Sadly, there is no cure for Cushings, but there are veterinary treatments and management changes which can greatly improve quality of life and longevity. Veterinary treatment includes Pergolide which is given on a daily basis to help normalise hormone levels. This should be used in conjunction with dietary and regime changes to help reduce the symptoms associated with Equine Cushings:
A High Fibre Diet
As there is an increased risk of laminitis it is very important to feed fibre rather than starch based feeds. Highly digestible fibres such as sugar beet and alfalfa are ideal ways of increasing the nutrient value and digestibility of a forage based diet.
It is important to treat a horse with cushings as a laminitic, even if he has never actually had laminitis! Monitoring weight, avoiding grass flushes and making any changes gradually (such as moving to new fields) will help to avoid sudden increases in grass which could trigger an attack.
Vitamins & minerals
A healthy, balanced diet with added vitamins, minerals and trace elements will help to provide the body with everything it needs to support a healthy immune system and metabolism. Including a supplement like Think Complete is ideal in this situation. This is particularly important when the body is under stress.
It is thought that as many as 20% of horses over the age of 15 may have Cushing’s, but with a little bit of extra tlc most can enjoy a happy life and remain in light to moderate work.