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Home:Equine Diseases:Cushings Disease

Equine Diseases - Cushings Disease




Equine Cushing's Disease is also known as Old Horse Disease, ECD, Hyperadrenocorticism and Pituitary Adenoma.

Equine Cushing's disease a degenerative disease of the brain stem. It is caused by malfunction in the pituitary gland. This gland becomes overactive and is unable to control the production and regulation of hormone levels. These hormone levels are then produced in excess, thus creating an imbalance in the horse, leading to the symptoms known as Cushing's disease.

All breeds and types of horses, male and female, can be affected. Cushing's disease is very common in ponies. The highest rate of incidence of Cushing's disease is in the 20 25 yr age range. Donkeys are also susceptible to Cushing's disease.

Equine Cushing's disease cannot be cured and often develops slowly over a period of several years.


Symptoms of Equine Cushing's disease can be similar to those of old age. Symptoms can be variable but here are some of the main ones. Horses with Cushing's disease will not show all of these symptoms but the presence of a number of them is a good indicator.

  • Long curly coat that does not shed normally
  • Sudden Laminitis
  • Foot abscesses
  • Excessive urination
  • Lethargy
  • Pot belly
  • Drinking too much water
  • High levels of insulin & insulin resistance
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Fat deposits along the crest of the neck, above the tail and above and behind the eyes.
  • Wounds may be slow to heal
  • Mouth ulcers can become a major problem.
  • Coat colour may change and become paler
  • Reduced immunity causing persistent infections often involving the skin, feet or respiratory system
  • Infected nasal discharge in one or both nostrils
  • Mares may lactate, even if they have not had a foal.
  • Eyes may have a "pop-eyed" appearance.


The most common cause of Equine Cushing's disease is held to be a benign tumour which develops in the pituitary gland and leads to an imbalance in the hormonal system. This produces extra chemical messengers which confuse the rest of the body, particularly the adrenal glands. At present, the cause of the tumour is unknown. .


If you think your horse might have Cushing's disease, you should consult with your vet. There are many tests which can be done and your vet will probably recommend that your horse fasts overnight for these tests.

Presently, EquineCushing's disease is incurable but treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms. There are some useful medical treatments , management procedures and herbal treatments that will help significantly.

Medical treatments are usually Phenoxybenzamine, Pergolide or Cyproheptadine. This medication is expensive and once started must be maintained. Treatment with these drugs is sometimes effective and can prolong and improve the quality of life for affected horses.

Good Management procedures will greatly improve the symptoms of Equine Cushing's disease. The most important aspect in the treatment of Equine Cushing's is excellent general health care, combined with a variety of management practices to reduce the impact of the symptoms.

Diet - Most feed companies will be able to provide useful nutritional guidance for the older horse and a well nourished horse may live for many years with the disease.

Dental care - this is very important. It will help prevent infections and ensure the absorption of nutrients from the feed.

Foot Care particular attention should be paid to the health of the feet to minimise the incidence and risk of Laminitis and foot abscesses.

Infection due to the reduced ability of the immune system, anti-biotics should be sought as soon as any infection is detected.

Vaccinations it is very important that these are kept up to date.

Worming - regular worming and treatment for lice are more important than usual and should be kept up to date.

Coat - regular clipping, particularly in the summer will help control body temperature and help reduce general infection.

Herbal treatment of Equine Cushing's disease has seen several advances in recent years. Homoeopathic & herbal treatments in particular have provided success as that obtained by drugs when it comes to relief from the symptoms. Agnus Castus - also known as Monks Pepper or Chaste Tree Berry - is very effective in helping to balance hormones in cases of equine Cushing's disease.

A combination of the above treatments will extend and improve the quality of your horse's life and can help your horse to live for many years with Equine Cushing's disease.