Can Horses Get Diabetes?

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!

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