Last Updated on March 27, 2022
If your horse has recently been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, you are likely to have a lot of questions such as can you ride a horse with Cushing’s disease? Let’s find out everything you need to know about Cushing’s disease in horses!
What Is Cushing’s Disease In Horses?
Cushing’s disease is a progressive, degenerative condition caused by changes to the pituitary gland in the brain. This important gland controls a range of bodily functions, and the symptoms we see in Cushing’s disease in horses are a direct result of abnormalities within the pituitary gland.
The correct name for Cushing’s in horses is pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). In a healthy horse, the pituitary gland produces hormones in response to signals from the brain. In a horse with PPID, the pituitary gland does not know when to stop producing hormones, and so an excessive amount are released.
The main hormone overproduced by the pituitary gland in a horse with Cushing’s disease is one called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). If your horse has been diagnosed with PPID, it is very likely that your veterinarian will have carried out a test for ACTH.
ACTH is a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a type of steroid. In a healthy horse, cortisol will only be produced as needed, whereas a horse with PPID will continuously produce too much cortisol. It is this overload of cortisol that is responsible for most of the clinical signs seen in a horse with PPID.
Some horses live with Cushing’s disease for a long time, but those that start treatment earlier are less likely to develop secondary problems such as laminitis.
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What Are The Symptoms Of A Horse With Cushing’s Disease?
PPID in horses causes a classic and unmistakable set of symptoms once the disease is fully developed:
- Abnormal Coat Growth – a horse with Cushing’s disease will normally suffer from hirsutism. This is where the coat grows longer and does not fall out. It will often develop a curly appearance.
- Laminitis – it is not yet known why horses with PPID are more likely to develop laminitis, although it is thought to be linked to raised levels of cortisol in the bloodstream.
- Weight – Horses with PPID often have a large appetite and thirst, but will lose weight and develop a pot-bellied appearance. They also commonly develop fat pads above their eyes, and the skeletal muscles will start to waste away.
- Infections – PPID causes a horse to be more susceptible to infections, such as skin conditions, gastrointestinal worms, dental disease.
Although these symptoms are clearly recognizable, it is also advisable to carry out diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis of PPID. These tests will confirm the severity of the condition, and also allow your veterinarian to assess your horse’s response to medication.
Horses with early-onset PPID may only show very mild symptoms. If these horses are tested and diagnosed early, the progression of the disease can be slowed. This can enable the horse to remain in good health for longer, prolonging its life and improving its quality of life.
Can You Ride A Horse With Cushing’s Disease?
Whether you can ride a horse with Cushing’s disease depends on the severity of the disease and the clinical signs. With regular medication and the correct medication, many horses live with Cushing’s disease for many years and can enjoy ridden exercise. However, if the horse is showing any signs of pain, weight loss, or excessive sweating, it should not be ridden.
There are ways you can keep your horse more comfortable and able to enjoy ridden exercise. If he has excessive hair growth, clip the hair and keep it clean to reduce skin infections. Sweaty horses should be sponged down and allowed to dry completely after exercise.
Gentle exercise can be a good way to maintain the health and mobility of a horse with PPID, but only alongside a holistic treatment and management plan. If there are any signs of lameness, or if the horse seems lethargic and unwilling to exercise, then ridden work should be avoided.
How Do You Know When To Euthanize A Horse With Cushing’s Disease?
Deciding when to euthanize a horse is always a difficult decision, and it can be hard to know when the right time is. Horses with PPID should have regular blood tests, which will help you to monitor if the disease is stabilized or worsening. This information, along with regular assessments of your horse’s quality of life, will help you to assess when it is time to make the sad decision to relieve your horse’s suffering.
Summary – Can You Ride A Horse With Cushing’s
So, as we have learned, if you can ride a horse with Cushing’s disease depends on the severity of the disease and the clinical signs. With regular medication and the correct medication, many horses live with Cushing’s disease for many years and can enjoy ridden exercise. However, if the horse is showing any signs of pain, weight loss, or excessive sweating, it should not be ridden.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on if you can ride a horse with Cushing’s disease! Have you ever owned a horse that suffered from this difficult condition? Perhaps you’ve got a great suggestion of how to care for a horse with Cushing’s disease? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
What Happens If You Don't Treat Cushing's In Horses?
If Cushing's disease in horses is not treated, the symptoms will gradually get worse. If left untreated, eventually the horse will deteriorate to the point that his suffering and poor quality of life lead to no other option but euthanasia.
Some horse owners elect not to treat Cushing's disease, either because the medication is too expensive or because the symptoms are relatively mild. If Cushing's disease is not treated, the owner should be prepared to take steps to limit the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of this disease, such as laminitis, weight loss, and excessive sweating.
Is Cushing's In Horses Contagious?
Cushing's disease in horses is not contagious, and cannot be transmitted from one horse to another.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE