© 2008 Cherry Hill ©
14 year old mare is an easy keeper, stays fat on grass and no grain and the last
few years she has been shedding later in the summer. Could she have Cushing's
I can not answer that question. Your veterinarian
would be the one to ask. However, I suspect that your mare could have Equine Metabolic
Syndrome. I'd like to give you some information to help you understand EMS and
a few other similar conditions.
In the meantime, if
when you say "grass" you mean grass pasture, you probably should remove
your horse from pasture and feed her a regulated amount of grass hay instead.
of luck and please let me know what you found out when your veterinarian examined
overfed and under exercised, horses
are they just "easy
keepers"? Maybe. But overweight horses are so much the norm these days that
horses in fit condition run the risk of being called underfed, abused or starved.
Just like humans, the US horse population is creeping toward obesity with all
its attendant problems including a metabolic imbalance similar to type 2 Diabetes
in humans. You don't want to let this happen to your horses, so take the time
to read this article. It is one of those things that is best to know ahead of
time to prevent !
Equine Metabolic Syndrome has also
Peripeheral Cushing's syndrome (see
Cushing's box below)
Insulin Resistance Syndrome
EMS is NOT:
Cushing's - Cushing's is an endocrine
disorder causing pituitary disfunction - hormone imbalance and excessive cortisol
Horses affected with Cushing's are usually between 18 and 23 years
of age. Symptoms include:
- hirsutism (long curly
hair) with delayed or abnormal shedding
drinking and urination
- excessive sweating
weight loss and muscle atrophy
- depression and
- normal to increased appetite
- fat deposits along the crest of the neck, over
the tail head and above the eyes
- laminitis (chronic,
- lowered immunity - chronic infections
or slow wound healing
- low thyroid production by the thyroid gland leading to a low metabolic rate
and weight gain.
Symptoms of EMS:
resistance - The liver, skeletal muscles and/or fat cells don't respond to insulin
so rather than glucose being used for work, it circulates in the blood and more
insulin is discharged by the pancreas.
Usually affects horses
between 8-18 years.
All breeds can be affected though more susceptible are
ponies, Morgans, Pasos, and Warmbloods.
Fat accumulation on the crest of the
neck, over the shoulders and just above the tailhead, or in the sheath of geldings.
estrous cycles in mares.
Obese, easy keepers (even those on sparse grass hay
tolerance test performed by a veterinarian.
Thyroid test to eliminate Hypothroidism.
Suppression test and/or Domperidon test (blood tests) to eliminate Cushing's Syndrome.
humans, causes include aging, pregnancy, smoking, reduced physical activity, and
obesity. Insulin resistance can lead to Type 2 Diabetes.
In horses, it is not
known, but it could be a combination of genetic or environmental factors, most
probably obesity and lack of exercise. (Sound familiar?)
Meals high in starch
and sugar lead to spikes in blood glucose and insulin and subsequently to insulin
reduction reduces cortisol (and other hormones). Lower cortisol levels lead to
increased insulin sensitivity, or a more normal glucose-insulin relationship.
Extremely judicious pasture grazing program, perhaps none.
mineral and vitamin supplement as needed, especially anti-oxidants such as Vitamin
Corn oil or rice bran as needed for energy.
is no medication suitable for treatment - however veterinary experts suggest using
a supplement containing chromium, magnesium or vanadium to increase insulin sensitivity.
Refer to Neutraceutical box.
feed grain unless it is required for a specific situation.
Don't feed grain
in large quantities to any horse and especially not to young horses.
at a healthy weight.
Provide regular exercise.
there is no medical treatment for EMS, manufacturers of neutraceuticals have put
together blends of various vitamins, minerals, herbs and other substances, some
of which show promise. Here are some of the products that are said to be of possible
help to maintain proper metabolism and help regulate glucose and insulin levels
while helping with digestion and nutrient absorption. While none of these have
been tested or proven to be helpful, you'll probably recognize many substances
that are currently recommended for humans with similar conditions.
Vitamins A, C, D, and E and
Grape Seed Extract and Alpha Lipoic Acid (antioxidants)
Folic Acid, Biotin
2008 Cherry Hill ©