Friday, 17 March 2017

All About ... Cushing's Disease

What is it

Cushing's Disease or PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) is a relatively common problem in older horses and ponies.  Research is ongoing into this endocrine condition but if identified and treated many horses and ponies continue active and healthy lives. 


  • Recurring laminitis 
  • Abnormal hair (hirsutism) - coat can be long and curly or a simple change to shedding/moulting


  • Excessive sweating 
  • Increased appetite 
  • Increased drinking and urination 
  • Weight loss 
  • Lethargy 
  • Ulcers in mouth 
  • Poor performance 
  • Reduced immune function - resulting in recurring skin, respiratory infections or foot abscesses, dental disease and increased susceptibility to worms 
  • Loss of muscle condition 
  • Pot belly and/or fat deposits along mane 
  • Fat deposit over eye (where a depression is usually present)

As they get older some horses produce insufficient amounts of Dopamine ( a neurotransmitter).  This neurotransmitter controls the secretions from the Pituitary gland which in turn control the secretion of cortisol and ACTH (hormones).  If the neurotransmitter is not produced sufficiently cortisol and ACTH production is not controlled - the excess amounts then produced are what cause the signs listed above.

Another cause could be enlargement of the Pituitary gland, again resulting in changes to hormone levels.  Alternatively, a tumour on the Pituitary gland will affect its ability to operate as normal.  It is thought that a large percentage (perhaps 80%) of horses who suffer from laminitis may also be suffering from Cushing's disease.



Early diagnosis and treatment gives the best chance for the treatment to give the best results.  Initial stages are gradual.  Blood tests are available but are not conclusive.


Conditions (eg: laminitis) should be treated.  A medicine is now available which can help to control the levels of hormones produced which in turn controls the signs mentioned above!


None known at present but research is ongoing.
This site is useful for more detailed information:

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