Can Horses Get Diabetes?

Last Updated on January 26, 2022

Diabetes is a common condition for people to have.  I’ve even heard of friends dogs and cats having diabetes, and having to take insulin shots for it.  But, can horses get diabetes?  

The simple answer is yes, and the more complicated answer is what I will be discussing in this article.  Yes, horses can experience the characteristics of diabetes, but the terminology and treatments are a little different for equines than they are for people or other animals.

In this article, I’m going to be discussing terminology, symptoms, reasons for, and treatments of diabetes in horses.

Can Horses Get Diabetes: Insulin Resistance in Horses

Diabetes in horses is also called “insulin resistance.” For a long time, it was thought that horses couldn’t contract “diabetes,” and that they could only develop Cushing’s disease.  Diabetic symptoms would almost always come before a horse developed Cushing’s.

But, recent studies and research have shown that this is not the case and that horses can show diabetic symptoms outside of their connection withCushing’s disease.  Thus, we now have “insulin resistance,” or diabetes for horses.


Can Horses Get Diabetes: Symptoms

According to EquiSearch, a renowned website on horse care and horse health, there are many signs and symptoms that your horse might be contracting Insulin Resistance.  Two of these include your horse’s family history.  If your horse’s family has a history of easy weight gain or a history of laminitis, you may want to keep your eye out.

Additionally, symptoms of Insulin Resistance include fatty deposits or gatherings on certain parts of your horse’s body.  The areas to watch for this are in the horse’s neck or crest, on or around the base of the horse’s tail, or above a horse’s eyes.

Lastly, if your horse has a medical history of easily getting laminitis, there is a higher likelihood that he will contract Insulin Resistance.  This is always something you will want to discuss with your vet, as there may be some preventative measures to take in your horses’ situation.

How do Horses get Insulin Resistance?

Not much research has been done on the genetics of Insulin Resistance in horses, or at least, not the same quantity that has been done on diabetes in humans.  So, vets and researchers can really only speculate on what causes Insulin Resistance.

Right now, it is believed that overfeeding your horse rich foods can sometimes cause Insulin Resistance.  Though, not every overweight, an overfed horse gets Insulin Resistance.  Also, having Cushing’s disease can cause a horse to become insulin resistant.

There is some speculation that the “easy keeper” breeds are more susceptible to Insulin Resistance than other breeds.  These include breeds like draft crosses, Quarter Horses, and even Appaloosas. But, there isn’t enough research to definitively say whether this is true.

Can Horses Get Diabetes:  Treatments

There are quite a few ways to help a horse overcome Insulin Resistance.  Some of these involve weight loss, but some do not.


One way you can help your horse combat Insulin Resistance is exercise.  Exercise can look different for all different kinds of horses.  If your horse is of an age where he can be ridden regularly, make sure this is happening.

Create a schedule for your horse, so that he is regularly being ridden and exercised.  If your horse is either too young or too old to be ridden, make sure that he gets another form of exercise.  He could be hand-walked or lounged.

And, horses should always have the opportunity to have turnout;  all horses act differently during turnout. Some prefer to stand and graze, while others prefer to run around like wild Mustangs.  Either way, turnout allows your horse the ability to move around, which is a vital form of exercise.


Another way you can help your horse overcome Insulin Resistance is by changing what and how he eats.  Evaluate your horse’s diet;  how often does he eat? How much does he eat? How many people give him cookies every day? I know for my horse it’s probably too many.

Some horses can live solely on forage like hay or grass.  If your horse is having trouble losing weight, and you have him on hay and grain, maybe try cutting him back to just grain.  If your horse is only on grass and hay, but he’s still having trouble losing weight, try a grazing muzzle when he goes outside for turnout.

Can Horses Get Diabetes: Insulin Resistance in Horses

Changing a horse’s diet involves a lot of trial and error.  And, it’s important to communicate your changes to your vet and your barn owner or manager.  Each horse’s diet is different, and changing certain things will work for some horses, but not for others.

Stress Reduction

Make sure your horse’s mental health is just as cared for as his physical health.  When horses are mentally stressed out, it can have physical effects on their bodies, the same way it can with people.

If something is stressing your horse out, try to resolve it, and see if that helps their situation.  For example, my horse gets stressed out when he is separated from other horses. As soon as you expose him back into a group of horses (whether they’re his friends or not), he will immediately calm down.

Make sure you know what stresses your horse out, and what calms him down.  Then evaluate his circumstances, and see if there’ s anything you can change.  

There are also many all-natural supplements that can help horses calm down and manage their stress. These can help a horse calm down mentally, which in turn has positive impacts on their physical health.


Thankfully, Insulin Resistance is a treatable ailment in horses.  While there hasn’t been a lot of research done on it, it is something that can be treated.  I hope this article helped you better understand “diabetes” in horses! If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences dealing with insulin resistant horses!

What time of day is the sugar content highest in grass?

For most pastures, the sugar content is highest in the afternoon and lowest at night. Therefore, if your horse suffers from diabetes, you should limit his grazing to early morning and night times. Furthermore, it may be useful to calculate a grazing allowance for your animals based on the sugar content of their pasture.

Are carrots bad for insulin resistant horses?

Not if they are fed in moderation. The same applies to all carbohydrates, which are converted into glucose by the horse’s pancreas before being utilised by the body. However, when glucose is already present in the blood, the body will convert it into glycogen for storage within the liver and muscles. A horse with an insulin resistant condition will need to be fed in a way that will enable the conversion of glucose into glycogen, without the presence of excessive amounts of glucose in the blood stream. Carrots are therefore a good carbohydrate source for such horses. As well as having a high fibre content, carrots also contain Vitamin C and Beta-carotene, which are beneficial to a horse’s health. 

How common is diabetes in horses?

Diabetes mellitus is actually not common in horses. It is more likely for a horse to develop equine metabolic syndrome. Equine metabolic syndrome is different from diabetes mellitus in that it does not cause a change in blood glucose levels. However, it does cause an increase in insulin resistance. Equine metabolic syndrome is a syndrome of several risk factors that increases a horse’s likelihood of developing laminitis. The risk factors are: insulin resistance or insulin resistance syndrome (IRS), obesity, and laminitis.

How do you prevent diabetes in horses?

Horses can develop diabetes due to not enough exercise daily and poor diet. If a horse suddenly develops diabetes, there may be some other underlying condition, such as hypothyroidism.
The best way to prevent diabetes in horses is by providing them with enough exercise daily, ensuring that they get proper nutrition, and by making sure they are not over-weight. Treatment is based on the type of diabetes the horse has. If the horse is not insulin dependent, then treatment would consist of dietary modification and insulin therapy, depending on the severity of the disease. 

How do I know if my horse has diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a common condition of horses. Most cases are associated with an overabundance of insulin in the body and result in hyperglycemia. Horses may have a variety of symptoms, but some signs include weight loss, frequent urination, excessive thirst, and increased appetite. Diabetes mellitus is most commonly diagnosed through a blood test. In horses, the test involves taking a sample of blood from a vein on the inside of the elbow or a jugular vein. The sample is then analyzed to determine whether the horse has too much sugar in its blood. Most cases of diabetes are diagnosed after other metabolic problems have been ruled out. Diabetes can be caused by an overproduction of insulin, a decrease in the ability of the body to use insulin, or both. Insulin is a hormone that stimulates the body to take in sugar from the bloodstream.