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Pleun Broeren
14 april 2023 Reading time 2 minutes

Cushing’s in Older horses

Cushing's disease, or PPID, mainly occurs in older horses. Due to the disease, the horse's pituitary gland is disrupted causing it to release too many hormones. This causes, amongst other things, the typical curly coat. Curious about how to recognize Cushing's in your horse and how to deal with it?

Cushing's disease

Cushing's, ie PPID in short, is an ageing disease that causes a disturbance in the pituitary gland of the horse. Due to this disturbance, the pituitary gland of the brain releases too many hormones causing the horse to become hormonally out of balance. This causes, amongst other things, the typical curly coat. More and more horse owners know that horses, especially as they get older, can get Cushing's disease.

Recognizing Cushing's in your horse

Cushing's in horses is most easily recognized by the long, curly coat and poor shedding in the advanced stage of the disease. However, symptoms are not always obvious. Is your horse sluggish and does he struggle to work as well anymore? Impaired performance can be one of the first symptoms of the disease. Other commonly seen symptoms include excessive drinking and urination, increased susceptibility to infections, decreased fertility, muscle loss, a tummy shape and abnormal sweating.

Cushing's Disease Complications

In particular, laminitis is a dreaded complication of PPID in this regard. The disturbance of the hormonal balance also disrupts the sugar metabolism, making the horse extra sensitive to a sugar-rich ration. In the autumn, PPID is even the cause of laminitis in about 70% of the cases. In addition, the defence against infections is negatively influenced by the disruption.

Life expectancy at PPID

If a horse or pony is diagnosed with PPID in time, it can often last for many years when the right measures are taken. Especially if laminitis, as a result of Cushing’s disease, can be prevented because this can ultimately threaten the quality of life the most.

Do I have a Cushing horse?

Although the risk of the disease is lower in a young horse, the disease can develop from the age of seven. In recent years, it has become much easier to conduct proper research into the disease. A single blood sample is already sufficient to determine the hormone ACTH, with which the diagnosis can be made reliably. Autumn is the best time to have this examination carried out by the vet, since horses with PPID have a relatively much higher blood level of ACTH than horses without the disease. But it can also be tested outside this period.

Treatment PPID

Although Cushing's disease is not yet curable, the negative consequences can be prevented long-term and effectively with medication. This medication ensures that the hormone production in the pituitary gland is inhibited, thus preventing laminitis, lethargy and coat changes. In addition, adjusting the management is an important link in the contribution to a long lifespan of a horse with PPID. You should especially think of adjusting the diet and grazing. For example, a horse with PPID can benefit from a grain-free diet. For example, Pavo WeightLift is a good option for older horses that also have trouble maintaining their weight. It is grain free and very low in sugar. 

A side effect of the medication can be a loss of appetite. Then it is possible that your horse or pony no longer wants to eat a certain food from one day to the next. It then takes a while to find something that is enjoyed again and that is as low in sugar as possible.

Cushing's and Nutrition

When your horse has Cushing's, he or she is extra sensitive to sugars due to the disturbed sugar metabolism. The advice is, therefore, to have your roughage analysed for at least sugar content. This is very easy with the Pavo Roughage Quickscan. If it turns out that the roughage, which is by far the largest share of the total ration, contains a high sugar value, this may be a reason to switch to another (low-sugar) batch of roughage. If additional supplementation is required, you can also opt for a low-sugar concentrate here, such as Pavo 18Plus combined with low-sugar Pavo SpeediBeet. As far as grazing is concerned, you also have to take sugars and therefore the fructan in the grass into account .


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