Guide to Cushings In Horses

Last Updated on September 1, 2020

Are you concerned about cushings disease in horses? 

After reading this article, you will understand what this disease is, the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for horses with Cushings.

What is Cushings Disease in Horses?

Cushings disease is a condition of the pituitary gland that is seen in horses.

Usually seen in older horses, this dysfunction occurs when a tumor develops on the equine pituitary gland.

The tumor will grow over time and cause excessive secretion of hormones.

These hormones will cause various changes to the horse’s body.

The most abundant hormone that is produced due to Cushing’s disease is cortisol.

Too much cortisol can have a tremendously negative impact on your horse’s health.

Horses with cushings disease can develop a characteristic potbelly.

They can wind up developing curly hair as well and their overall athletic ability will be severely impaired.

What are the Symptoms of Cushings Disease?

  • Laminitis
  • Weight Loss
  • Mouth Ulcers
  • Increased Thirst
  • Potbelly
  • Curly Hair
  • Prone to Infection

There are numerous smptoms of Cushings disease in horses you must look out for. 

Some of the symptoms of Cushing’s disease will develop slowly over time.

This disease is progressive, and it will become worse as the condition advances.

Horses suffering from Cushings disease may develop laminitis.

This is an inflammation of the laminae inside of the hoof. It can be very painful and may even cause hoof deformities.

Weight loss is one of the symptoms that many people notice first.

A horse suffering from Cushings may wind up losing a significant amount of weight. It might not be pronounced to start off, but gradual weight loss is common among horses suffering from this disease.

Some horses have been known to develop ulcers in their mouth due to Cushings disease.

These can be painful for the horse and will need to be managed properly by your equine veterinarian.

Multiple ulcers in the mouth are not entirely uncommon once the disease has advanced.

Your horse may appear to be thirstier than usual.

If you notice your horse taking extra trips to their water trough, then it could be a sign that something is amiss.

Drinking more water will also lead to excessive urination.

Body changes are common for horses that are suffering from Cushing’s disease.

Some horses will develop a potbelly, and most will develop curly hair.

Sometimes fat deposits will begin to show themselves around the mane as well.

Horses suffering from Cushing’s disease are also more prone to infection.

Cuts and scrapes will not heal as quickly as they did prior to the onset of the disease.

Small injuries will need to be taken much more seriously than usual when your horse has Cushings disease.

What Causes Cushings and How Does a Horse Get It

The cause of Cushing’s disease is a tumor on the pituitary gland.

The tumor presses down on the pituitary gland and causes the secretion of excess hormones.

The increased levels of hormones such as cortisol bring about the symptoms of the disease.

Tumors like this are generally located right in the middle area of a horse’s pituitary gland.

This area is referred to as the pars intermedia.

Some circles refer to this condition as pars intermedia dysfunction because of this.

Horses who suffer from Cushing’s are generally older.

As a matter of fact, the vast majority of these cases occur in horses that are older than seven.

Cushing’s becomes more common among much older horses, but it still isn’t an incredibly common disease when compared to the total equine population.

Cushings Disease Diagnosis and Treatment

Generally, Cushings is not discovered prior to the onset of symptoms which lead the owner to contact their vet.

A qualified equine veterinarian will be able to determine exactly what is going on. They will need to perform a thorough physical examination in order to make a concrete diagnosis.

There are other diseases and conditions that could be the cause of some of the symptoms.

The physical examination will allow the veterinarian to definitely determine whether or not a horse is suffering from Cushings disease.

They will also want to draw blood from the horse in order to have it examined.

Once it is determined that a horse is suffering from Cushing’s disease, steps will be taken to treat the condition.

This is not a condition that can be outright cured. It is a disease that will need to be managed so that the horse can live with it as comfortably as possible.

Medications such as peroglide and cyproheptadine have been shown to be effective treatments.

You can give your horse these medications on a daily basis in order to improve the health of your horse.

Medication dosage are reduced over time once the treatments have proven to be effective.

Most of these medications for Cushings disease will be delivered orally.

Your veterinarian may suggest some dietary changes that you should implement, as well.

As long as you take the advice of your veterinarian, it should be possible to effectively manage the condition and allow your horse to live a happy life.

Importance of Diet and Cleanliness

Weight loss can become a large issue if you don’t take steps to prevent it.

This is why it is imperative to follow the advice of your veterinarian.

You will need to develop diet plan that will help to prevent weight loss while giving your horse as much strength as possible.

Both insulin and blood sugar levels may not be normal in horses suffering from Cushing’s disease.

This means that it is especially important to manage their diet.

Increased insulin levels can have a negative impact on your horse, so you will want to manage what they are eating as effectively as you can.

The condition of your horse’s hooves will also need to be taken into consideration and monitored closely.

Horses suffering from Cushing’s disease are prone to problems with laminitis.

This condition negatively impacts the hooves and can make life very difficult for your horse.

Regular visits to the veterinarian will be important.

You will also want to ensure that you are checking your horse’s health daily and shoeing them properly. 

The horse’s immune system will be compromised in some ways when they have Cushing’s disease.

This means that you will need to take extra care to clean any cuts and scrapes that they suffer. This will help to keep the horse from getting sick, and you can avoid issues with infection.

For more equine guides and tips read these articles


While Cushings disease cannot currently be cured, it is possible for you to help manage your horses health while increasing their comfort and quality of life. 

Follow the recommendations of your vet while maintaining a proper diet and hoof care plan to maximize the improvements your horse can experience.

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