A problem experienced by some horses and ponies as they age is, Cushing's disease. But what is Cushing's, what does having Cushing's mean for your equine friend and how can your vet help? Read on to find out more.
What is Cushing's disease?
Cushing's is an auto-immune disease. Situated at the base of the horse's brain, the pituitary gland controls the production of natural steroids by the body. Horses with Cushing's suffer an overproduction of the steroid, cortisol, leading to an imbalance and ongoing health problems.
The majority of Cushing's cases are seen in horses aged over 15 years, of both sexes, and all breeds. The most classical symptom of Cushing's is a long, curly coat that doesn't shed. Other symptoms include:
- weight loss, despite having a good appetite
- overdevelopment of the crest
- a pot-bellied appearance
- excessive drinking and urinating
- recurrent infection
- slow healing of minor wounds
Diagnosis and treatment
If you think that your horse might have Cushing's, don't delay seeking veterinary advice. Your vet will be able to diagnose the condition through a simple blood test in addition to an assessment of the clinical signs the animal is presenting. Once diagnosis has been confirmed, your vet will prescribe ongoing drug therapy for your horse.
Although there is no cure for Cushing's, the condition can be managed in order to improve the horse's quality of life, and the sooner the diagnosis is made, the more quickly you can take action.
Management of Cushing's disease
- If your horse has grown a very thick coat, clipping him will make him more comfortable, especially in warm weather.
- Regular dental checks by your vet or a qualified equine dentist will enable your horse to digest his food properly and will help to prevent infection.
- Adjust the horse's diet to guard against laminitis by limiting hard feed, providing plenty of forage, and limiting his access to rich grazing. Weigh your horse regularly with a measuring tape and consult your vet if weight loss begins to occur.
- Even if your horse is no longer ridden, regular attention from your farrier is essential to prevent the development of laminitis and abscesses.
- As horses with Cushing's are prone to infections, don't delay in calling for veterinary attention if your horse sustains a cut or puncture wound, even if you think it's very minor.
- Keep your horse's worming programme and vaccinations fully up to date.
A horse with Cushing's disease can live a long and comfortable life provided diagnosis is made promptly and the management provisions outlined above are put in place. Ask your vet for more advice and information on caring for a horse with Cushing's disease.