Equine Cushing's Disease and PPID - Life Data® Blog

Equine Cushing’s Disease and PPID

Cushing’s Disease

Horse with Cushing's Disease

The number of horse’s affected by Cushing’s Disease (PPID) is steadily increasing in the United States as the horse population is living longer. Unfortunately, there are still many unanswered questions revolving around Cushing’s Disease and how it impacts the horse. Cushing’s Disease falls into the same category of diseases as Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance in that the extent of the problem is relatively “new” to the equine industry. Continued research into the disease and other metabolic problems must be conducted before we can fully understand the full extent of these diseases. What we do know about equine Cushing’s Disease can be used to help identify the disease early and assist in improving the overall quality of life for affected horses.

What is PPID in Horses?

PPID, or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, is another name used to identify Cushing’s Disease. Breaking down the name, PPID, helps us better define what is occurring in the Cushing’s horse. For example, “Pituitary” refers to the gland that is being affected in the horse. The pituitary gland in the horse is only as large as a prune and is located at the base of the brain and produces hormones in response to brain signals. The word “dysfunction” relates to the dysfunction occurring in the small middle region of the pituitary gland (Pars Intermedia). This dysfunction effects the inhibitory function of the gland, resulting in the excessive production of the hormone ACTH. The excess ACTH stimulates the adrenal gland to overproduce cortisol. High levels of circulating cortisol lead to a multitude of problems.

Signs of Cushing’s Disease in Horses

The average horse with Cushing’s Disease is around the age of 15, when signs of the disease appear. It is estimated that the disease will impact approximately 30% of the population of horses who are 15 years of age or older. It is beneficial for horse owners to watch for any signs of Cushing’s Disease, especially if they have an older horse, so that it may be diagnosed in the early stages. Early identification can make the disease easier to manage and increase the quality of life of the Cushing’s horse. Below is a list of early signs:

  • Increased lethargy
  • Regional shaggy hair coat
  • Delayed shedding
  • Loss of topline
  • Regional fat pockets
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Recurrent laminitis
  • Recurrent hoof abscesses

Cushing’s Disease can progress slowly, but the advanced stages can also develop unknowingly. These advanced stages are much more severe and have a greater impact on the horse’s health. Symptoms of the advanced stages of Cushing’s include:

  • Dull hair coat
  • Poor shedding
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Round abdomen (potbellied appearance)
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Regional adiposity
  • Poor performance
  • Loss of topline
  • Increased thirst/urination
  • Blindness
  • Delayed healing
  • Laminitis
  • Hoof abscesses
  • Suspensory ligament/tendon laxity 

Feeding a Horse with Cushing’s Disease

A horse’s diet plays a major role in every aspect of the horse’s overall health. As such, feeding a proper, balanced, and basic diet to a horse with Cushing’s Disease is one of the most beneficial lifestyle changes to make. Many horses with Cushing’s will struggle maintaining a normal weight, either developing an overweight or underweight body condition score. In either case, horse owners must be mindful of the calorie, carbohydrate, and sugar intake their horses consume daily. The addition of a quality hoof supplement is also recommended to help in the recovery of many of the hoof related issues that often develop from Cushing’s Disease. Below is our recommended feeding routine for horses with Cushing’s.

  • Grass/Hay
    • Be mindful of the sugar in the grass
      • You may consider limiting grazing
    • Allow grazing only in the morning to early afternoon hours
    • If the horse is overweight, consider a dry lot.
  • Additional Calories (Only for Underweight Cushing’s Horse)
    • Avoid carbohydrates
    • Remove all “Complete Feeds”
    • Shredded sugar beet pulp or copra (coconut pulp)
      • High in Fiber
      • Low in Carbs
      • Good option for underweight Cushing’s Horse
      • Soaking prior to feeding helps prevent choking and excess sugar

*Overweight horses will not require additional calories*

  • Farrier’s Formula®
    • Promote Hoof Quality
    • Assist in laminitis recovery
    • Assist in hoof abscess recovery and prevention
    • Improves hair coat and skin quality
  • Life Data® Adrenal Formula
    • New formulation from Life Data
    • Designed specifically for the support of Horses with Cushing’s

Life Data® Adrenal Formula

By conducting blood analysis research, Life Data® has discovered many correlations in horses diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. Life Data® Adrenal Formula was formulated using this research and will provide additional support for horses with Cushing’s. The active ingredients may help improve the function of the adrenal gland, improve metabolism, regulate thyroid hormones, and reduce the effects of Cushing’s. It also provides essential antioxidants and helps rebuild healthy connective tissue. Life Data® Adrenal Formula is designed to help promote:

  • Normal adrenal gland function
  • Improved glucose metabolism
  • Rebuilding of healthy connective tissue
  • Regulation of thyroid and adrenal hormones
Adrenal Formula for Equine Cushing's Disease

Treating Cushing’s Disease in Horses

Unfortunately, no cure for Cushing’s Disease has been found. If you believe your horse may have Cushing’s Disease, it is important to consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can conduct yearly tests to evaluate your horse’s condition and provide medication to assist in regulating symptoms. Providing proper nutritional support along with Farrier’s Formula® and Life Data® Adrenal Formula can also assist in relieving the effects of Cushing’s Disease. If you have any questions regarding proper equine nutrition or any of the products mentioned, please contact us.