What Cushing’s Syndrome Could Mean For Your Horse

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Equine Cushing’s syndrome, also referred to as PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) or hyperadrenocorticism, is a hormonal disease caused by changes in the pituitary gland. During the autumn, the signs of hyperadrenocorticism can become evident. Horses experience a surge of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) at this time of year and this surge is excessive in horses with Cushing’s syndrome. A common endocrine problem in older horses, younger horses can also develop Cushing’s. We asked our horse health experts to fill us in on this equine well-being issue.

What Happens Exactly?

Nerves in the horse’s hypothalamus degenerate and start to produce less dopamine. Dopamine reduces ACTH production from the pituitary gland; the falling levels of dopamine causes ACTH to rise in the blood stream. Excessive ACTH stimulates the adrenal gland to produce high levels of cortisol, causing hyperadrenocorticism.

Clinical Signs of Cushings

Symptoms you’ll need to watch out for range from laminitis, an abnormal coat (hirsutism), patchy sweating, reduced performance, lethargy and muscle wastage. Other clinical signs to be aware of are a redistribution of fat, which may manifest itself as the development of a crest, a pot belly or fat pads above the eyes, increased drinking and urinating, and recurrent infections.


If you notice any of these symptoms happening to your horse, to whatever degree, then you should visit your vet for a clinical examination and ACTH blood test. Autumn is always a good time to test for PPID as the test is more accurate at this time of the year.


Pergolide medication prescribed by a vet may be used to manage the condition but be aware this is not a cure. You may also want to take note of the fact that pergolide is now prohibited under international equestrian rules and horses prescribed the substance could be banned from competing in disciplines such as eventing, dressage and show jumping. With no cure available, careful husbandry will be required. Look after your horse’s diet, farriery and exercise and for further information about laminitis visit www.talkaboutlaminitis.co.uk.


www.horse-insurance.co.uk offer a Vet’s Fee benefit which could be useful in the event that your horse develops Cushing’s syndrome. With a range of other helpful benefits and up to 45% discount available, you could protect your horse should misfortune strike. Visit www.horse-insurance.co.uk  today and find out more!


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