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Cushing's Syndrome is well known in humans, cats and especially in dogs. It is also becoming more prevalent in horses, and yet there is little written about identifying it, and caring for horses who suffer from it. It is regarded as incurable in horses, though it is possible that horses can live reasonably happily for a long time whilst suffering from it.


"Cushing's disease" is a term used in human medicine that refers to pituitary dependent hyperadrenocorticism. According to veterinary and human medical experts the disease is characterised by excessively high levels of steroids in the body. Steroids are compounds that circulate naturally in our bodies and our pets' bodies. Two major centres in the body regulate the levels of these steroids.

The main centre is a gland in the brain called the pituitary. This gland controls most of the hormones in the body. This disease is called hyperadrenocorticism.; (hyper = too much; adreno = adrenal gland; cort = cortex, the outer layer of the adrenal gland; ism = process). Blood tests often help the diagnosis of Cushing's Syndrome, and they indicate high levels of blood glucose. This would be similar to diabetes, which is very rare in horses, but is sometimes found in horses with Cushing's.


In dogs and cats
There are times when the steroid control in the body becomes deregulated and excess steroids are present. Clinical signs, in dogs, include drinking too much (polydypsia), urinating a lot (polyuria), eating a lot (polyphagia), hair loss, pigmentation of the skin, enlarged abdomen due to an enlarged liver, lethargy, etc. In dogs and cats there appear to be effective treatments, which may include the use of steroids to balance the steroid level in the body.

In horses
  • The coat grows very woolly and curly.
  • There may be increased sweating in patches.
  • The stomach becomes distended.
  • The horse drinks a lot.
  • The horse passes urine frequently.
  • There may be some weight loss.
  • There may be ulcers in the mouth and elsewhere.
  • The teeth may come out.
  • Increased glucose levels in blood and urine.
  • The condition may trigger laminitis.
  • Resistance to other infections may be lessened.

Treatment is difficult, and often there appears to be no practical and economic cure in bad cases, but the following ideas may be ways of helping your horse to be more comfortable and enabling her/him to live, sometimes actively, for quite some time.
  • In mild cases drugs might help, eg cypropheptadine or pergolide. Neither is cheap and treatment is long term.
  • Clip the coat in warm weather.
  • Treat any raw/sore patches on the coat with an antibacterial/fungal wash.
  • Ensure that the horse is rugged during cool nights and days. This will ensure that any food digested is used keep up strength rather than just for heating. It is likely to lead to increased energy levels and may improve alertness.
  • Gently exercise to help with physical well being; eg leading in hand around the field.
  • Give hard feed regularly, maybe 3 times a day. If your horse's teeth have deteriorated then make sure that the food is relatively soft and mushy. This may be achieved by watering the food, often with hot water. This will help the food to be more easily digested.
  • It is suggested that food should chosen to meet the needs of the state of the animal, and a blood test may help determine the level of sugars that need to be present.
  • Homeopathic treatments may be useful, and you would need to consult a specialist for these. The cost may be less than normal medicines!
This article was kindly provided by Phil & Val Emmett, and June Haffner

The purpose of this page is to try to gather information together on the disease, and to enable those interested to have a point of contact, where further insights and advice can be published. Please visit Phil & Val's website for more information and the story of Flame, a pony with Cushings Syndrome

If you have any helpful suggestions, or advice that you can give to others send an e-mail to either:

Phil Emmett or Val Emmett or Nigel & June Haffner
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