Cushing's disease, named after its discoverer, is a disease caused by a high level of endogenous or supplied cortisone. This hormone has an influence on many processes in the body, including the immune system and metabolism. Dr. Christiane Stehle, veterinarian around Lake Constance, explains what to do in the case of the disease.
What exactly is Cushing's, and how does it manifest??
Cushing's, or current "Pars intermedia dysfunction of the hyophysis" (PPID) is a malfunction of the pituitary gland. The most noticeable symptom of many affected horses is a change in their hair coat. The horses are long-haired to curly coat. The strikingly long hairs are not shed or are shed very delayed during the shedding process. At the beginning only long hairs on the lower jaw and legs may be noticeable. Laminitis can present as the most serious symptom of many horses with Equine Cushing's Syndrome (ECS). Laminitis, which is extremely painful and often recurrent, can lead to the horse's complete inability to work or even death. In addition, ECS causes many rather nonspecific clinical signs. There may be increased sweating, thirst and excessive urination. In mares, there may also be disturbances of the heat or milk production. Unusual fatigue is often observed in affected horses. Muscle wasting, emaciation, fat deposits in unusual places, delayed wound healing and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases or hoof ulcers are also common consequences of ECS.
How does the veterinarian make the diagnosis?
The diagnosis can be made by means of a blood test, for which the AdrenoCorticoTrope-Hormone (ACTH) is determined. This hormone regulates the feedback of the cortisone level in the body. The ACTH value is considered a significant indicator for the diagnosis of Equine Cushing's Syndrome. This examination has the advantage that it can be carried out all year round and is particularly sensitive during the seasonal increase from August to October.
What is the therapy?
The disease is incurable, but treatable. Lifelong daily treatment is required. The active ingredient pergolide has a similar effect to dopamine, which is lacking in horses suffering from ECS, and ensures that the overproduction of ACTH does not occur in the first place. Regular progress monitoring to determine the optimal dose is important. Normally, a very significant response to therapy can be observed within six to twelve weeks. In addition, a low-carbohydrate diet should be followed. A lot of exercise should be taken into account.
Are there horses that are particularly susceptible to this disease? Cushing's is the most common endocrinopathy in ponies. Large horses from the age of about twelve years onwards. Nowadays, due to the often severe overweight of horses, we see. Increasing lack of exercise more and more cases of Equine Cushing's Syndrome.
Can Cushing be prevented?
Only conditionally, through a carbohydrate-reduced diet and sufficient exercise, the triggering factors can be reduced. At least annual checks of the relevant blood values as part of general preventive health care are advisable. Especially in older horses and those with risk factors.
What are the consequences of the disease? Due to the high level of cortisone in the blood, differentiated. In some cases even life-threatening disturbances in the organism develop. Emaciation, muscle loss delayed wound healing or a higher susceptibility to infectious diseases can be the consequences.