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Cushing’s disease in horses
What is Cushing’s disease in horses?
Cushing’s disease in horses is also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID in horses). As a result of this disease, all breeds as well as types of horses have a chance of getting affected.
However, ponies are seen to be most at risk. Cushing’s disease is generally seen in ponies and horses who are older than 15 years of age and occasionally in 20 year or 30-year-olds as well. Geldings and mares also get affected.
Cushing’s disease in horses symptoms
Common symptoms of Cushing’s disease are lethargy and weight loss, even though the horse may have a healthy appetite. Protein breakdown causes depletion of the horse’s muscle mass, especially around the rump and the saddle area.
A few ponies and horses might develop a “pot belly” as a result of weak abdominal muscles. On occasion, fat may get deposited along the neck, above or behind the eyes and above the horse’s tail. Horses affected by Cushing’s disease might drink and also urinate frequently.
Causes of Cushing’s disease in horses
Cushing’s disease happens due to progressive degeneration of nerves in the hypothalamus, an area in the brain. The degeneration leads to the reduction of a neurotransmitter substance which is known as dopamine.
Dopamine controls secretions of a particular part of a gland called the pituitary gland. This part, called pars intermedia, is responsible for controlling the secretion of important hormones including cortisol and ACTH.
Whenever the pars intermedia does not get sufficient dopamine from the horse’s hypothalamus, extremely abnormal and high levels of the above hormones are produced.
The high levels of hormones result in the symptoms that are associated with Cushing’s disease.
However, in case you suspect that your horse is suffering from Cushing’s disease, do go to your veterinarian who will prescribe a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.
Cushing’s disease in horses treatment
You can control Cushing’s disease symptoms with appropriate medication. Apart from this, weight control, proper dental treatment, and clipping help you ensure high quality of life for your horse.
Horses that have thick coats sweat a lot and become distressed and uncomfortable in warm weather. Such horses benefit from clipping, especially during summer.
Proper dental care is essential to prevent secondary infections and to ensure adequate absorption of necessary nutrients from your horses’ diet.
In case your horse has any dental problems, it may result in painful chewing of its food. This will reduce your horse’s appetite and cause rapid weight loss.
Your horse’s diet must be monitored preferably with the assistance of a nutritionist. Make sure you use a weighing tape on a periodic basis. Doing so will ensure you can monitor your horse’s weight.
Since the immune system of your horse gets suppressed, regular medical checkups and speedy treatment of any infection are essential. Be sure to pay particular attention to proper deworming, treatment for lice and vaccinations as per schedule.
Proper treatment may help in extending or improving your horse’s quality of life by a few years, however, be aware that Cushing’s disease is incurable in horses and has been found to develop over a time period of many years.
Be sure to keep your veterinarian in close confidence throughout the treatment and report any changes in your horse to him immediately.
Cushing’s disease in horses