Cushing’s in Horses: What You Need to Know

Cushing’s disease is a common endocrine disorder that affects horses of all ages and breeds. Originally, equine Cushing’s shared the same name as similar disorders in people and dogs. However, the equine disease is now referred to as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) because it more accurately reflects the equine version of the disorder.

It is a condition where the horse’s body produces too much cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate metabolism, immune responses, and inflammation. If left untreated, Cushing’s can lead to serious health issues, including laminitis (inflammation of the hoof), poor coat condition, and weight loss. Fortunately, treatments are available for this condition, so it’s essential to know the signs and symptoms to look out for if your horse is affected.

Signs & Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease in Horses

Cushing’s diseaseThe most common sign of Cushing’s disease in horses is an abnormal hair coat. The horse may develop a long shaggy coat that does not shed out properly or may have patches of thinning hair or excessive shedding during the summer months.

Other signs include increased drinking and urination and an enlarged fat pad on the neck or shoulders. In some cases, horses may also experience lethargy or depression and issues with overheating due to their illness.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

If you suspect your horse might suffer from Cushing’s disease, consult your veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment options. Your vet will typically perform tests to measure cortisol levels in the blood and urine to confirm a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease. Once verified, your vet can advise you on the best treatment option for your horse.

This could include medications such as pergolide (Prascend) or cyproheptadine; supplements like Vitamin E; dietary changes; or even surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

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Cushing’s is not a curable disorder, but the symptoms and effects can be controlled with proper medication and some management changes. Pergolide is one of the most common treatments and acts as a dopamine agonist to help regulate the pituitary gland. This medication was first developed for people with Parkinson’s disease and is used off-label for horses with Cushing’s. Horses treated with pergolide tend to stay on the medicine for life. 

Pergolide is given daily, and many horses find it not very palatable. There are a few tricks to make daily administration easier. While some horses will accept the tablets in their grain, others require them to be dissolved and given in a dosing syringe. If your horse is getting wise to the daily dosing syringe or spitting out their medication, Dimples Horse Treats are a healthy soft treat with a pill dimple designed to administer medication, so your horse enjoys it.

Caring for a Horse with Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s disease is a severe condition affecting horses of all ages and breeds. As horse owners, we must be aware of potential signs and symptoms of endocrine disorders and get our horses treated as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment are critical when dealing with Cushing’s disease. Consult with your veterinarian if you think your horse may be exhibiting any of these signs or symptoms. With proper care, you can help ensure your horse lives a long and healthy life!