The Challenging Question: When To Euthanize A Horse With Cushing’s?

Last Updated on January 12, 2022 by Griselda M.

When To Euthanize A Horse With Cushing’s? It is a painful question for the loving owner of a horse. Since horses are now living longer than ever before, this is now a very common hard situation. Usually, horses did not use to survive so long due to great exposure to many events in their life, one of those are the many colic episodes during their life.

Then as Veterinarian and Horse owners are now in the dilemma to advise and decide when the life quality of our horse is not good anymore neither for them nor for us it is better to put them down.

What is the Equine Cushing’s or PPID?
When To Euthanize A Horse With Cush...
When To Euthanize A Horse With Cushing’s?

Cushing’s is the most common endocrinopathies diagnosed in elderly horses (mainly more than 10 years), however, very rarely in younger horses (3 years old). 

What is the Equine Cushing’s or PPID

A USA study done using the Veterinary Medical Data Base (VMDB) found that PPID was reported in 217 horses in between 1992-2004. Another study worldwide was done using questionnaires found a 1% prevalence among horses older (>18 years).

Learn more about Signs & Causes of Cushing’s Disease in Horses

Cushing or PPID Affects Horse Quality Life

The most common sing and symptoms by PPID horses are hirsutism and laminitis. Hirsutism is mainly affecting general appearance however; laminitis could be a secondary serious life treating consequence. 

Horses also could have muscle atrophy and weight loss. Polydipsia and polyuria, a common hallmark endocrine-related signs, are less reported.

Is it Diagnosis and Treatment Effective-Feasible?

Diagnosis is mainly done by clinical signs, the most undeniable is hirsutism in older horses (84% cases). A definitive diagnosis is done by laboratory tests using DST (Dexamethasone Suppression Test) and cortisol measurements are the gold standard. 

  • Horses’ survival rate after been diagnosed is on average 4.6 years after they have been diagnosed. 
  • The first and only FDA approved treatment until now is the drug Prascend (pergolide mesylate). Many other options without scientific evidence have been reported cyproheptadine, trilostane, bromocriptine, herbal, acupuncture, etc.
  • Veterinarians (44%) in a 2017 survey said that other therapeutical approaches and managements are needed.

Learn more about How Long Do Horses Live With Cushing’s Disease?

Finally, When To Euthanize A Horse With Cushing’s?

Nowadays, due to the increase of horse life expectative as well as the increasing elderly horse population, it is more common for Veterinarians to have at least a horse with PPID in their actual practice as a patient. Also, there is more awareness in elderly horses about any signs like hirsutism and laminitis.

Cushing’s is a chronic disease capable to generate many clinical consequences and increased a pro-inflammatory stage in horses. Moreover, after having a PPID horse, owners are more prone to attempt treatment options in any other horse suffering PPID condition, despite having previously considered Euthanasia on the first hand in a prior case.

Finally, When To Euthanize A Horse With Cushing’s

Veterinarians and owners have to take into account, the effectiveness of treatment available and affordability of veterinarian costs since the survival rate is average 4-5 years after PPIS diagnosis so the treatment of this chronic long-term condition.

Finally, always you should consider the balance between treatment possibilities and Euthanasia as an option in the outcome of horse life quality, for giving the most humanitarian approach and avoiding horses suffering.


Do horses with Cushing’s Suffer?

Horses with Cushing’s disease are suffering from an enlarged pituitary gland, which is responsible for regulating the hormones in the horse’s body. Horses with Cushing’s either don’t have enough dopamine present in their body or the body is not able to properly recognize it. This can directly affect the adrenal glands and the kidneys, making the horse more susceptible to infections. Research has also shown that Cushing’s disease can also cause neurologic disease. In almost every case of equine Cushing’s disease laminitis becomes present which will cause pain and sensitivity in the hoofs, from the deterioration of the lamini. 

Is euthanasia painful for horses? 

Euthanasia, or having a horse put down, is something that almost every horse owner, grooms, caretakers, barn managers, and trainers must face making this tough decision at some point. Veterinarians choose to euthanize a horse through lethal injection to make sure that your horse is not aware of any discomfort or pain as life leaves its body. Making sure the process is simple and quick is one of the veterinarian’s top priorities. At no time does a vet wish this to be a long or drawn-out process or allow the horse to feel any anxiety or discomfort associated with this process. 

What happens to horses after they are euthanized?

Disposal of the deceased horse can be expensive as well as logistically challenging. Options for equine carcass disposal are cremation/incineration, burial, landfill burial, rendering, bio digestion, and composting. Not all of these options are available in every area, so it is very important to do some research and find out what your options are and what the cost will be.

In some states, if the horse was not euthanized via lethal injection or was not suffering from a disease, the carcass may be suitable for animal consumption. Therefore it could be taken to the zoo or possibly used on some hunts where the carcass would be used as food or the hounds. If you want to bury your horse on your property you must first check the laws in your area to see if it is something they allow. There are usually specific requirements such as placement, depth, and size of the hole and how it should be handled.

Why can’t you bury a horse?

In most states burning your horse on your own property is strictly controlled by law and in some states it is illegal. The main concern with property burial is the possibility of the groundwater becoming contaminated and the odor. If you are able to bury your horse on your property there are many things that must be considered when choosing the site. For the site to meet the specific jurisdictions, the burial site must be 100 yards or further away from wells, streams, and other water sources.

If the site is closer water contamination becomes an increased risk. In some states, it is illegal to bury a horse that was chemically euthanized because of the possibility of increased contaminants from the injection. The ideal trench or hole where your horse will be placed should be approximately 7 – 8 feet wide, 9 – 10ft deep, and at minimum 3 – 4 feet of dirt that will cover the animal’s remains. For this task, many find using a backhoe is ideal. Although it can be dug by hand, it will take some time to accomplish. Some states require a permit to legally bury a horse on any property so always check what your county’s laws are before you begin.

Read more about What Do Vets Use To Euthanize Horses?