Equine cushing syndrome riding time

Cushing's is a hormone disorder that horses can get from an average age of 15 years old. It cannot be cured, but with appropriate treatment many more years without symptoms are possible.

– 15.10.2015: New findings – Cushing's symptoms, clinical signs at diagnosis – 19.07.2012: The importance of Cushing's

What does Cushing's mean?

Horses with Cushing's have a disease of the pituitary gland. This produces hormones that enter the body through the bloodstream. If a horse is healthy, the control of body functions is intact. In the sick animal, dopamine release in the brain is reduced. This results in the lack of dopamine to keep a certain hormone in balance, which is needed for a part of the pituitary gland. It's called ACTH. This hormone increases cortisol production in the adrenal cortex. As a result of which the following symptoms may occur:


– poor shedding, leaving thick, long hair in summer, where frizz is also possible – emaciation, although food is well eaten – severe thirst and frequent urination – frequent laminitis – muscle breakdown, mainly in the back – frequent infections due to poor immune system – different fat distribution, d. h. Decrease in the back and z. B. increase on the abdomen


There are appropriate medications (please check with your veterinarian) that provide relief from some symptoms. Here you can z. B. decrease in coat disturbance. First relief can occur after a few weeks, depending on the horse.

Try to get your horse the appropriate treatment as soon as possible so you can still have wonderful years together.

Cushing's symptoms, clinical signs at diagnosis

A nationwide study of equine Cushing's syndrome was conducted in the U.S. Data was collected from veterinarians and horse owners on thousands of horses of all breeds and ages showing possible identifiable features of the disease.

Cushing's is also known by the technical term PPID ( Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction). Based on the data, the researchers confirmed some suspected patterns and surprisingly identified some others in two scientific papers.

Enlargement of part of the pituitary gland is responsible for PPID. This causes the release of a variety of hormones that disrupt the horse's metabolic balance. The condition progresses with age, so treatment should be started as early as possible. However, this is not so simple. Veterinarians are looking for the easiest and most effective ways to identify PPID.

Steve Grubbs from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. (BIVI) St. Joseph, Missouri, and colleagues, presented new findings on a PPID epidemiologic study at the recent 2015 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum.

Data collection

The study included data from 515 horses, z. B. Warmbloods and ponies. Captured the patterns, causes and impact on health and disease conditions, along with risk factors and prevention approaches.

equine cushing syndrome riding time

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First, the epidemiological characteristics of horses with PPID at initial diagnosis were recorded, Grubbs explained. Horses included in the study had at least one of the clinical signs. Horses without clinical signs were excluded from the study.

Researchers collected characteristics and demographic data (age, sex, breed, location) for each horse at the first veterinary visit and performed a history and physical examination. Then collected blood to basal ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormone), fasting insulin and glucose, which may indicate PPID or insulin resistance (IR), a reduction in insulin sensitivity that makes it harder for cells to transport blood glucose for storage. Samples were shipped to the same lab overnight for analysis. Next, the team sifted through the test results. Certain links to demographics. In doing so, they aimed to determine which characteristics can help predict PPID.

Grubbs and his colleagues found that the likelihood of being diagnosed with PPID among age groups was as follows:

– Horses 15 to 19.9 years old were twice as likely to have the disease as horses younger than 15 years old. – Horses 20 to 24.9 years old had a 4.6 times higher risk of PPID than horses younger than 15 years old. – Horses 25 years of age and older were 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with PPID.

– 222 horses (43%) tested PPID positive, – 203 (39.4%) tested as insulin resistant, – and 197 (38.3%) tested negative at both.

– 97 horses (18.8%) tested positive for both diseases, – 115 (22.3%) tested positive for PPID but negative for insulin resistance, and – 106 (20.6%) tested negative for PPID but were insulin resistant.

Insulin resistant horses, regardless of age, were twice as susceptible to PPID as horses with normal insulin levels. Forty-three percent of Cushing's horses were also hyperinsulinemic (increased concentration of insulin in the blood).

Clinical signs

In the second aspect, the researchers focused on the clinical signs themselves. "The prevalence of PPID was significantly higher in horses than in horses that currently have five of the clinical 11 signs," he said.

It was not surprising that z. B. Decreased athletic behavior, loss of muscle mass and weight loss were on that list, Grubbs said. "When we look at the clinical signs and the degree of predictability, or what might be the most predictive of PPID, abnormal sweating was the no. 1 of the clinical signs," he said. "Many have not even considered this."

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It was not statistically significant, but PPID was more likely to develop when the three of the other clinical signs from the list of 11 were present

– polydipsia (abnormally increased thirst), – polyuria (abnormally increased urine excretion) – and laminitis.

Cushing's prevalence was actually lower when the four (of the remaining signs) were not present: thick/fat neck resp. Fat pads, bullet belly, weight gain and recurrent infections.

Delayed shedding and weight loss were each also significant predictive variables for a horse with PPID.

Further studies are planned with this group of horses, with the particular aim of linking the clinical signs of PPID to specific age groups.

Data help veterinarians

Better characterization of these differences (in specific age groups) will help veterinarians evaluate horses whose owners may not be able to pay for testing but want to treat symptomatically. "They're more likely to trust the clinical signs," Gubbs said. "We're trying to help them make the best decision."

Based on the research findings, many other questions arise. But it's right to look back and realize how good veterinarians have become at diagnosing and treating PPID, Gubbs said. "We are much better than we were 5 or 10 years ago.

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