What does a diagnosis of Equine Cushing’s disease mean for your horse?

Finding out that your horse has or may have a disease is always a worrying time. Rest assured though that a diagnosis of Equine Cushing’s disease does not mean your horse’s quality of life is going to suffer. Equine Cushing’s disease is a common diagnosis for older horses and ponies: it is estimated that one fifth of horses over the age of 15 have this condition so you and your horse are not alone!

There have been huge advances in our understanding of this condition over the last ten years, and although Equine Cushing’s disease cannot be cured, we now know a lot about how to manage the condition so that your horse can lead a happy life. The majority of affected horses respond well to treatment and many of those will return to their previous use. First of all, it’s important to understand what is happening to your horse when they develop Equine Cushing’s disease: horses with this condition produce less dopamine, which means that a part of their brain called the pituitary gland starts to produce higher than normal levels of lots of hormones. The clinical signs that then develop are linked to these high hormone levels.

cushings

The cornerstone of effective disease management is medication to treat the signs of Equine Cushing’s disease. You vet can discuss this lifelong daily treatment with you. As with all prescription medication it is important to follow your vet’s advice regarding the dose and frequency of administration.

Administering a new medication to your horse can be a frustrating time for both you and your horse as you adapt to this new change in your routine. If you have any problems or concerns you should always discuss these with your vet as they will have experience of supporting owners through these first few weeks and will be able to share tips and advice to help you find the routine that works best for you.

Once your horse has started treatment, an improvement in the symptoms of Equine Cushing’s disease is usually expected within 6-12 weeks (although it is worth noting that it can take longer than this for some signs to improve, and that every horse will respond individually to medication). Your vet will take a repeat blood test 4-6 weeks after starting treatment which will let you know whether your horse is on the right dose, and will advise you on any change in dose if this is needed.

horse eating grass

Treatment is lifelong, and your horse will need regular 6-monthly check-ups with your vet so that they can check that the Cushing’s is under control. Horses with untreated or uncontrolled Equine Cushing’s disease are at a high risk of developing signs associated with this disease such as laminitis, repeated infections, muscle wastage, lethargy, poor coat quality, and increased drinking and urination…. so these regular rechecks are crucial in ensuring your horse remains happy and healthy.

In addition to medical treatment, there are some important management strategies that can help to ensure a good quality of life for your horse. These measures involve paying careful attention to your horse’s nutrition, exercise, hoof care, dental care, vaccinations and parasite control.

You can read more about these aspects of caring for a horse with Cushing’s by joining the community of horse owners facing the same challenges as you at www.careaboutcushings.co.uk