Cushing’s disease in horses is a common disorder involving the endocrine system.
Abnormalities in the pituitary gland can increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that is located near the kidney of the horse.
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.
Cushing’s disease is more common in senior horses, although it may sometimes present in younger horses too.
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 and prompts 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.
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.
Prescription treatments include trilostane and pergolide mesylate.
Horses with Cushing’s Disease are more susceptible to developing laminitis, so special care should be taken to provide them with high fibre and low starch diets.