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Equine Cushing’s Disease (PPID)

One of the main reasons we are exploring this topic is because just in the past few weeks we have treated several horses for un-diagnosed Cushing’s Disease.

Equine Cushing’s is properly known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID).

What this means is that a gland in the horses brain (pituitary gland) is encouraged to work overtime because there is not enough dopamine (a hormone) being produced by the horses body.

This then causes the pituitary gland to produce too much of certain hormones because the body’s natural “off switch” is not working properly.Equine PPID Cushing's Disease

When the levels of these hormones get too great, your horse or pony starts to develop side effects including: weight loss, muscle loss, laminitis and recurring infections.

This was originally considered an “old horse” disease, however horses as young as 5 years can be affected. Statistics these days say that up to 50% of horses over 15 years have PPID, and 70% of horses that suffer from laminitis are shown to be positive for PPID also.

What are the signs that may indicate your horse has PPID?

  • Fat or muscle loss – a general “loss of condition”
  • Laminitis or reoccurring foot abscess’
  • Hypertrichosis – excessive coat growth (often “curly”) – or unable to shed their coat effectively
  • Fat pads – around eyes, neck (crest), back and rump
  • Lethargy – always seeming tired, lacking in energy for some reason
  • Drinking more or urinating more than normal
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Reoccurring infections – of skin, wounds, teeth, etc
  • Parasite problems

Many people associate PPID with the “curly coat” appearance – and often this is one of the last signs to occur in the disease process. What this means is by the stage your horse or pony looks like a classic PPID case, the disease has already progressed into its mature stages.

We recommend testing and treating your horse before it gets to this stage as it is easier to control, so have a good look at your horse or pony and see if any of the above signs may be apparent.

Health Check and Blood Testing

If you notice any of the above signs with your horse or pony we recommend a consultation with your vet.

A health check will be performed to highlight any areas of concern, and then a blood sample can be taken. Often times we take one blood sample at the time of the visit to test your horses ACTH levels. However this can differ case by case and your veterinarian will discuss your best testing options with you.

What happens if my horse is Diagnosed with PPID?

If your horse or pony is tested positive for PPID then they are often prescribed a medication known as Prascend. This medication acts as a synthetic hormone which then aims to reactivate the “off switch” in your horse or pony’s pituitary gland.

This is life-long medication, and so follow up blood tests and health checks need to be performed regularly to ensure your horse or pony is getting the full benefit of the treatment.

Unfortunately there is no cure for PPID, however – the good news is that it can be very well managed with ongoing medication.

Resources and further Reading

Talk About Laminitis

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