In the present day, medical understanding of equine Cushing’s disease has been evolving rapidly. Although recognized as an equine disease for over seventy years, it has often been misdiagnosed and thus gone untreated or even remedied incorrectly. With recent advancements in diagnostic skills and a broader understanding of the disease and its treatments, horses afflicted with Cushing’s are beginning to live longer, happier lives.
What is Equine Cushing’s Disease?
Cushing’s disease is centralized around a gland in the brain, known as the pituitary. Here, hormones and other chemicals are created and dispatched into the body and the blood stream to control bodily functions. Here is where Cushing’s disease comes in – an afflicted equine will continue to produce an over exaggerated amount of a certain chemical known as POMC (proopiomelanocortin peptides). In return, the gland can actually increase in size due to the development of non-cancerous tumor or pre-tumor cells pressing against the brain. In the later stages of Cushing’s disease, this pressure can even cause certain neurological problems.
Cushing’s disease also deals damage to the horse’s adrenal glands. By overproducing POMC, the adrenal glands respond with an over exaggerated production of cortisol, thus further enhancing health problems.
Usually, horses that are afflicted with Cushing’s disease have a skinny appearance, often accompanied by an overly-wooly coat. Although looking thin, fat build-up and deposits can be seen on the horse’s body, especially on the crest of the neck. This is due to the insulin resistance that many horses with Cushing’s disease also posses. This can also increase the risk of the horses developing laminitis. Often lethargic and sweating excessively, horses with Cushing’s in turn take in vast amounts of water. As this disease mainly affects older equines, many people unfortunately believe that their horse is simply aging. Additionally, due to the high level of cortisol in the body, the horse’s immune system is weakened. This makes him or her susceptible to recurring hoof, sinus, and tooth abscesses and infections.
In the later stages of Cushing’s disease, neurological symptoms may be present. As the pituitary gland expands, it presses against the brain, causing advanced neurological problems. These include ataxia, which is fumbling and uncoordinated limb movement, fever, hyperventilation, and potentially death.
Through today’s research, a few treatments and drugs have been created for equine Cushing’s disease. The most popular news today is known as pergolide. This drug is also used to treat and control Parkinson’s disease in people. It works by initiating dopamine release, which then tells the pituitary gland cease POMC production. Fortunately, side effects are generally rare and limited. Some equine owners have notice an extreme turnaround in their horses health once started on pergolide.
Another significant way of managing and improving symptoms of Cushing’s disease is altering your horse’s diet. Antioxidants and vitamins such as E and C have been known to help the ailing equine. Chaste Berry is an organic way to stimulate dopamine production, and although still being scientifically tested, many scientists have a positive outlook and Chaste Berry as the potential treatment for equine Cushing’s disease.
“Equine Cushing’s Disease.” My Equine Clinic.