Equine Cushings is a syndrome that is being seen more frequently in equine practice. It is a condition of the older horse and with improved care and welfare, horses are living longer. This, with the better recognition of the symptoms, has resulted in an apparent rise in its incidence.
What is Cushings?
This is a condition in which the horse’s adrenal gland is overstimulated to produce the steroid cortisol. In the horse, this is usually due to the overproduction of ACTH, a chemical messenger produced in the pituitary gland that stimulates the adrenal. The increased ACTH production is normally a result of an adenoma (benign) type tumor in the pituitary gland.
What are the clinical signs?
The variety of symptoms may vary from case to case but the following are some of the common presentations.
- Failure to shed the coat; it becomes shaggy and long.
- Increased thirst.
- Increased frequency of urination.
- There may be a reduction in the muscle mass, especially in the croup area and the horse may develop a pot-bellied appearance.
- Appetite may be increased even though the loss of weight is apparent.
- Due to the increased production of cortisol, the immune system becomes depressed, with a consequential increase in infections, e.g. Skin infections, respiratory infections.
- The increased circulating cortisol also poses a significant risk towards the development of laminitis.
How is it diagnosed?
Your vet to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms carries out routine hematology and biochemistry blood tests and urine analysis. If these tests prove inconclusive specific blood tests are used to confirm a diagnosis. Blood cortisol levels are measured and various suppression and stimulation tests are then performed.
Can Cushing’s be treated?
Due to the nature of the condition, adenoma of the pituitary, treatment may be unsatisfactory. Various drugs have been used such as cyproheptadine, pergolide, and bromocriptine with varying results. Your vet should advise you on their usage.
In general, there are several things that should be done to improve your horse’s health.
- Greater attention to health care is important due to the increased susceptibility to infections.
- Regular worming is important as the level of parasites may be increased with the immune suppression.
- Dental care is important.
- Important that your horse is on good quality feed and nutrition.
- Body clipping may be necessary during the warmer months.
- Prolonged antibiotic courses may be required if concurrent infections are present.
- Magnesium supplementation has been recommended because it appears to be a risk factor for insulin insensitivity. The optimum Calcium: Magnesium ratio should be 2:1 in the diet.
- Complimentary therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine have also appeared to help.
In Cushing’s there is overproduction of steroids and the correction has to occur over time because the body is in a sort of imbalance, but if you think about it, in disease the body has a new balance, be that fluid balance, heat balance, energy balance, so when we introduce something new to the body these balances will all be upset. If something was done for example that stopped the adrenal gland from producing steroids the source of our Cushings problem, the body wouldn’t be able to cope with the sudden change. You might even get collapse, all the body systems would be each rushing to reach a new balance or equilibrium. So, therefore, changes have to happen slowly, in a way we try to nudge the body back to a healthier balance. This is the herbal approach that the company has taken to the correction of this problem. For example, if we get the kidneys performing better, fluid balance will be regulated, dryness we hope will be lessened in the lungs, joints mobility improve as joint fluid less dry, and so many systems benefit.
“Walter”(Our Cushings patient) and companion “Ali”
Last summer my aged pony was diagnosed with COPD and Cushings. Every treatment that my local vet tried failed on my pony and he grew worse. We tried him on human medication for Cushings with not one thread of improvement. Absolutely nothing eased the pony’s breathing. By mid-summer here in Florida where the heat and humidity are intense, Walter’s respiration was 104, which I understand is double the normal. He simply stood with his head hanging and his little sides heaving like bellows. Frantic and at my wit’s end I searched the net and found Dr. Coyne who not only explained what Cushings is (no one else seemed able to give me a clear description of the disease) and said that he thought he and his associate could help my pony. This was my last resort, if this didn’t work I would have to have Walter put down, he couldn’t go through another summer of suffering and so I ordered the herbs.
Walter started on the herbs in the cooler weather where he usually got some relief but as the weather grew warmer, then hot, I lived in great angst that these herbs surely couldn’t work. It is now late summer. Walter has gone through this entire season with absolute normal respiration and indeed, compared to last year at this time, it seems a miracle, I cannot describe the difference in my pony. I feel that Dr. Coyne and his associate have saved and extended my pony’s life, without a doubt. I have recommended them to a friend who also has a horse diagnosed with Cushings. She reports that his symptoms have diminished and he is doing very well on these herbs.