Differentiating the Equine Metabolic Diseases

Do you have a horse with a shaggy, nonshedding haircoat? Unexplained laminitis? Overweight with a cresty neck no matter how hard you try to control his/her diet? Is his bucket always dry, or his stall always saturated in the morning? There are a number of medical issues that can be the cause of these symptoms in your adult horse, regardless of age.

Cushing’s Disease is a disease of horses in their teen years and older. Early in the disease it may be characterized by an unshedding haircoat, loss of muscle mass over the horse’s topline, or unexplained bouts of laminitis (founder). In more advanced cases the horse may grow an extremely long shaggy haircoat that fails to shed out, develop unexplained laminitis and sinus infections as well as other problems. The cause of this disease is a benign tumor of the horse’s pituitary gland – a gland deep in the horse’s brain that regulates much of the horse’s metabolic activities. Thankfully there is an effective treatment for this disease, and many horses live long productive lives after being diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease and started on the appropriate course of treatment.

Insulin Resistance (Metabolic Syndrome) is a disease typically seen in horses in their teens and younger. The main symptom is an easy keeper with a cresty neck and, if the disease is not addressed, laminitis. The treatment for these horses is primarily management of carbohydrate intake in addition to supplementation with certain minerals and vitamins, and exercise. It is thought that this is becoming a more common or recognized condition as horses are less active and still fed high levels of carbohydrate feeds. The biggest consequence of this disease is laminitis which maybe a chronic lameness issue for the horse.

If you are concerned that your horse has any of these symptoms, please call to talk to one of our veterinarians, discuss the diagnostic options, and schedule an appointment.

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