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Cushing's Disease

 by: Susan Prince

As our horses enjoy a longer life and many live well into old age so the number of horses with Cushing increases as its more common in older horses especially ponies. It can however affect all breeds and ages.

Cushing is caused by an abnormality of the pituitary gland that is situated at the base of the brain. This causes it to produce excessive amount of a hormone called cortisone, which is the body's natural steroid hormone.

Signs of Cushing

  • Long thick curly coat, which may not shred.

  • They may grow their winter coat very early or shred it early as the swelling at the gland puts pressure on the part of the brain that is responsible for seasonal hair loss

  • An increase risk of laminitis

  • Excessive drinking and urinating

  • Increase appetite

  • Raised heart rate

  • Muscle wasting

  • In mares their cycle may be abnormal

  • Mare may not be able to conceive

  • Lethargy

  • Weight loss

Over a period of time an affected horse will show some or all of the above signs which are listed.


Within the brain a substance called Dopamine is naturally produce which prevents the over production of hormones. There is another natural substance called Serotorum which has the opposite effect and produces to much cortisone.

Treatment will consist of using a drug which mimics Dopamine the most commonly used one is Pergolide which is given in tablet form or using a drug one of the most promising being Trilostane that will block Serotorum.

Your vet will decide on which cause of treatment will be most suitable for your horse or pony. Both types of treatment will bring about the same results, keeping the amount of cortisone produce under control.


The increase in cortisone in the body is similar to the effect of stress so to manage the condition we need to reduce stress levels as much as possible.

  • Keep to a strict routine

  • Ensure a comfortable quiet haven for the horse

  • Avoid turning out with aggressive horses

  • Keep feed and water easily located

  • Clip out and rug in winter

  • Groom well to help minimize skin diseases

  • Keep hooves in good condition

  • Check for signs of laminitis

  • Minimize contact with new horses

  • Immunize regularly

  • Have regular dentist checks

  • Feed only high quality easily digestible food

Treatment and management will be life-long as there is no cure for the condition. I know from my own experience as I had a old pony called Ringo who suffer with Cushing for many years but still live to the grand old age of 35 that horses can live a comfortable life for many years.

The most serious complication is laminitis and this must be manage carefully

All the best


About The Author

Hello my name is Sue and as well as being a dedicated horse owner I also own a business site offering work at home ideas and opportunities.

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