The cushing syndrome in the horse what exactly is the equisense blog

The blog is often about young horses and their training and growth, but actually far too rarely about the old hands, our reliance horses. Surely some of you still have the pony with which you competed in your first tournaments. We should ask ourselves more often how we can make these horses, who have taught us so much, as comfortable as possible in their well-deserved retirement. Therefore, in this article I would like to provide some facts about a disease that affects more and more horses: Cushing's Syndrome.

1. What is Cushing's Syndrome?

The Cushing's syndrome is a Hormone Disorder , d. h. the function of an organ responsible for the regulation of the hormone balance is disturbed. In this case the Pituitary (pituitary gland) affected. Cushing's syndrome is a degenerative disease, whose development is gradual .

This disease occurs increasingly common in older horses at. This is due to the fact that health care has improved enormously in the last 25 years, not only for us humans, but also for our four-legged friends. Therefore, our horses, just like us, reach an increasingly older age. Thus, the Cushing's syndrome is also more and more frequent.

As a rule, Cushing's occurs in horses in the age of 15 to 20 years but in isolated cases also younger horses at the age of 7 to 10 years are affected. Epidemiological studies carried out in different countries show: 25-30 % of horses over 15 years suffer from Cushing's Syndrome . That is quite a lot!

2. How does Cushing's syndrome occur?

At this point some biology comes into play for a better understanding.

Cushing's syndrome in horses - what exactly is it? equisense blog

The Cushing syndrome is much better known in the dog than in the horse . In dogs, however, a different part of the pituitary gland is affected, namely the pars distalis. Accordingly, the clinical picture also differs. Therefore, the term " equine Cushing's syndrome " increasingly used to clearly delineate the disease.

3. What are the signs?

This disease is manifested by A multitude of symptoms . It is usually relatively easy for the average horse owner to detect, even without a stethoscope or blood draw. The following signs should be watched out for:


Your horse's coat is independent of the season long, shaggy and wavy and resembles the coat of a Poitou donkey. The coat change takes place too late, is not completed or the coat loses its color.

These symptoms occur with 77-100 % of horses suffering from Cushing's disease [Frank et al. 2006]. In addition, there is no other disease that causes these symptoms in horses (except malnutrition, which is rather rare in our latitudes). If the coat of your horse looks like described, you can ame to 90% that he suffers from Cushing's syndrome [Frank et al. 2006].

You know Chewbacca from Star Wars? Voilà!


Hyperhidrosis means as much as " excessive sweating ". The reason for this is also the disturbed change of coat. But even after shearing, the horse continues to sweat excessively, so it is amed that the metabolism is accelerated.


Laminitis was found according to the study at 24-82 % of horses affected by Cushing's noted [Tamzali 2012]. The difficult thing is that the Pain sensitivity of the horse is reduced due to the increased release of beta-endorphins, which is why the symptoms of laminitis often go unnoticed for a long time . This hormone is a natural analgesic. Sometimes even causes feelings of happiness. Maybe you have heard of this " happiness hormone" in connection with sports. According to studies, the cause of chronic laminitis is too 80-90 % a hormonal disorder. [Ireland et al. 2012] [Karikoski et al. 2011]

cushing's syndrome in horses what exactly is equisense blog

Polyuria& Polydipsia

No, they are not close relatives of the Teletubbies. These terms mean that the horse is thirsty, drinks a lot and consequently urinates a lot. This symptom is in 30 % Of the horses suffering from Cushing's to observe. However, it is often difficult to judge this objectively, because who knows exactly how many liters his horse really drinks every day??


Your horse seems sad, tired and weary. ☹️

Emaciation and degradation of the musculature

This mainly affects the muscles of the back. It is often mistaken for muscle loss due to aging. Also the elasticity of the abdominal wall often decreases, this often makes the sog. pot belly.

Fat deposits

In 15 to 30% of cases, there are increased fat deposits in the area of the eye pit, the mane crest, the perineum or under the tail.

Frequent infections

Your horse is more prone to infections of the skin, teeth, sinuses, hoof abscesses and pneumonia. Often these remain infections unnoticed , as the horse's sensitivity to pain decreases and his Immune system is also impaired. Clinical symptoms may be less pronounced. In addition, parasite infestations occur more frequently.


The cycle of affected mares may change, up to a reduced fertility.

cushing syndrome in horses what exactly is equisense blog

Keep in mind that the appearance of hirsutism or 3 other symptoms mentioned here should definitely be taken seriously.

4. How can I be sure that it is Cushing's disease?

If there is even the slightest doubt, you should consult your Consult your veterinarian , he will be able to make a diagnosis. The majority of the diagnosis is clinical , d. h. the veterinarian will examine the horse from head to toe. Then a suitable treatment can be initiated. During routine blood tests, the signs of Cushing's often go unnoticed. However, there are some special blood tests that can be used to make a clear diagnosis if there is still any doubt.

5. How can I help my horse?

If the diagnosis has been confirmed, your veterinarian may start treatment with Pergolide mesilate , z. B. Prascend, suggest. The dose is adjusted depending on the reaction to the medication. Therefore, you should observe your horse well during this period. Keep in touch with your vet. The first improvements are usually seen within 4 to 6 weeks . Sometimes you can hardly believe your eyes: the horse becomes fit as a fiddle again! In 75 % of the cases an improvement of the clinical symptoms occurs. Therefore, it is definitely worth a try, especially since there are usually hardly any side effects. The most common (in 1 out of 3 horses) is anorexia (loss of appetite and thus low food intake). But don't worry, it's usually temporary.

So much for drug treatment. But you can make your horse's life much more comfortable with a few simple tricks. Remember that your horse is much more sensitive than others, so it is okay to spoil him a little.

💡 Here are some tips:

Deworm more frequently (3-4 times a year): schedule deworming with your veterinarian.

Vaccinate it 2 instead of 1 times a year – Offer it A hygienic and comfortable environment : a clean box, clean accessories, comfort etc. – Care for a Good, balanced diet . Care for his hooves. Have the farrier come regularly. Have your horse shod if necessary. The Formation of abscesses should be prevented as much as possible. Shoe it , if it suffers from hirsutism.

Cover it , when he is cold.

– Let your horse 2 times a year from the dentist examine.

In general increased caution . Measure his rectal temperature, watch his behavior, if his nostrils are clean and the smell he gives off… If there is the slightest doubt, go to the vet!

6. Can my horse be cured?

No, it is a degenerative disease and therefore it will unfortunately accompany your horse for the rest of his life. The good news is that Cushing's syndrome is very rarely fatal. However, it affects the quality of life of the horse. Some owners, when recurrent infections occur or when the horse is in severe pain due to laminitis, decide to put the horse to sleep.

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