Could my horse have Cushing's disease?

Cushing’s disease in horses is a common disorder involving the endocrine system.  More commonly known as known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). Abnormalities in the pituitary gland can increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that is located near the kidney of the horse. Cushing's disease in horses is more common in senior horses however it may sometimes present in younger horses too.


Signs to Look out for

The most obvious sign that a horse has this hormonal disorder is the coat. Generally this presents in a wavy appearance or in different shedding habits

These are the symptoms to watch out for:

  • A horse that does not seem to shed during summer
  • Wavy, or curly coat on a horse with a previously normal coat.
  • Frequent urination which leads to increased consumption of water, beyond the normal 5-8 gallons per day.
  • Muscle wasting and pot-bellied appearance.
  • Increased sweating
  • Laminitiis

How Cushing's Disease Develops

The pituitary gland is found at the base of the brain and is commonly called the master gland as it controls the hormonal system of the body.

It is believed that tumor formation in the pituitary gland causes Cushing’s disease which causes the overproduction of  the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is the regulator of heart function, blood pressure, and metabolism, as well as regulating muscular tone and helping with stress response. If stress is not controlled it can lead to gastric ulcers.

Managing the Horse with Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease is incurable. However, treatments can be given to suppress the overproduction of the hormones.

Most horses continue to live a happy life with treatment.Treatments can be prescribed by your veterinarian. The most common drug for effective control is Pergolide.

Horses with Cushing's disease are very prone to laminitis a debilitating inflammatory condition inside the hoof. This can be manage by regular farrier visits and limit access to lush pastures.

Careful management of the horse's diet will help combat weight loss. Try to  provide them with high fibre and low starch diets. Lastly, because Cushing's disease in horses weakens it's immune system ensure any superficial wounds found on the horse's body are kept clean.