Equine Cushing’s Disease

Equine Cushing’s Disease

Definitely more than just “old age,” Equine Cushing’s Disease, or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID) as it is also known, is being seen more now that advances in veterinary medicine are allowing our equine friends to live longer lives. Ponies appear to be at greatest risk of developing this disease although all breeds, genders, and types of horses are potentially susceptible. It is rare to see Cushing’s in a horse under the age of 15 and more common to see it in horses who are in their 20s or 30s.
Characterized by a heavy, coarse, wavy or curly haircoat that does not shed as expected, other symptoms of Cushing’s are often vague and can be easily attributed to other conditions or even just the fact that your horse is aging. Some of these include weight loss; lethargy; loss of muscle mass, particularly over the topline; the development of fat deposits, especially over the tail head, above and behind the eyes, and along the crest of the neck; increased drinking and urination; recurrent infections; laminitis and a rounded abdomen or potbelly.

Cushing’s is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, sometimes referred to as the “master gland” because it regulates nearly all of the body’s endocrine systems. These tumors are benign, but due to the proximity to the brain are considered “active” tumors. Typically a slow-growing tumor, the size seems to have little correlation as to whether your horse will have a severe or mild case of Cushing’s. Surgery to remove the tumor is not an option, but fortunately, Cushing’s is relatively easy to manage with medication.

Horses afflicted with Cushing’s also generally have immune systems that are compromised. As such, they are more susceptible to internal parasites, periodontal disease, sinus infections, hoof abscesses, and laminitis. In addition to medication to help control and slow the progression of Cushing’s, preventive care strategies become more important to the continued quality of life and management of health than in horses not similarly afflicted. Horses diagnosed with Cushing’s should be on a minimum twice-yearly preventive care exam schedule which should include frequent dental checkups and be supplemented by regular farrier visits. It is also important to establish and maintain a deworming protocol that takes into account your horse’s increased susceptibility to parasites and to evaluate its effectiveness with periodic fecal egg counts. Ensuring your horse is receiving a diet that will keep her healthy and not exacerbate her symptoms and ensuring a good balance of minerals with supplements as necessary will help your horse stay in the best condition possible. It is important to ensure both the diet and any supplements are balanced and that supplementation is necessary to avoid introducing any additional complications such as a mineral toxicity into the mix.

Early diagnosis followed by aggressive treatment can not only help prevent and address complications, but it can also help extend your horse’s lifespan while maintaining a quality of life. Cushing’s in horses cannot be cured, but with a good plan that is implemented and maintained, your horse will still be able to enjoy her life and your company to the fullest.

Equine Pregnancy Checks

Equine Pregnancy Checks

It’s an interesting thing about how we view pregnancy: We get the positive test, and we think that’s it and start planning to welcome a new foal to our family. The sad truth is that some pregnancies won’t hold, and up to 15 percent of broodmares who checked safe in foal at a check done around 45 to 60 days will have lost their pregnancies by late fall. A fall pregnancy check allows you to confirm if you’ll be hearing the pitter patter of little hooves in a few months or to determine why the pregnancy was lost, take steps to correct the situation if possible and start planning for the next opportunity.

The gestation period for mares is a pretty wide range of 320 to 380 days, with 330 days being the most commonly cited length. Without a fall pregnancy check, you’d be close to a year waiting and well into the next breeding season before you knew if a loss had occurred. Adding insult to injury, if you wait until your horse should have foaled to find out there is a problem, there will likely not be enough time to diagnose the issue, take steps to correct it and still allow time for rebreeding, meaning you’ll lose an entire year before you can try breeding your horse again.

Your mare can be confirmed safe in foal in the fall by either palpation or ultrasound, ultrasound providing the potential of sexing the foal, an option that isn’t available with a palpation check. If it is important for your planning, or you just prefer to know what sex of foal you’re expecting, ultrasound is the right choice for you. If you just want to know that your mare is still safe in foal and that everything is progressing normally, palpation checking is often a less expensive route to get that information.

Once you’ve either confirmed that your mare is safe in foal or that her pregnancy has been lost, you have better information for how to proceed with her care through the winter. If she’s safe in foal, you’ll want to take steps to improve the odds that she’ll have a healthy foal in the spring such as monitoring her body condition, adjusting her feed to accommodate the additional caloric needs of staying warm and the pregnancy and implementing a vaccination and deworming schedule to help protect her health and the health of her foal. If the pregnancy was lost, we’ll work with you to determine why, suggest and help implement a treatment plan to correct the issue if it can be addressed, and you’ll be able to start preparing to implement a rebreeding plan that may include such things as a lighting program and adjustments to her body condition. If it comes to that, we’d be happy to help you establish a rebreeding plan if you don’t have one in place already.

It is our hope every time we conduct a pregnancy check that we’ll be relaying good news back to the owner that “everything’s just fine,” but nature sometimes has other plans. Either way, a fall pregnancy check allows you to have all the information about your mare’s current condition and plan appropriately, regardless of the answer we provide.

If you have any questions about your mare’s pregnancy, need to schedule a pregnancy check or have questions about the breeding process, please contact our office to schedule an appointment.

Equine Nutrition

Equine Nutrition

As the temperature cools and the pastures wane, adjustments to your horse’s nutritional regimen need to be put in place. As with any changes to your horse’s feed, exercise regimen or management, changes should be implemented gradually to minimize the risk of complications and upset to your horse’s system.

If your horse has been on primarily pasture for the spring and summer, you’ll need to start adjusting her to hay and grain or concentrates. The deteriorating quality of the pasture as we progress through fall and approach winter necessitates these changes. Remember that horses need high-quality forage to keep healthy, so any hay should be consistent; free of contaminants such as weeds, dirt, and mold; be bright in color and have a fresh appearance and smell. More energy, minerals, and protein are found in young, leafy, immature plants than older plants. If you must feed a lower quality hay, be sure to supplement it with a higher quality feed to avoid compromising your horse’s condition and good health.

If your horse has been grazing throughout the spring and summer, you’ll also need to start adjusting her feeding schedule to accommodate the less-ready access to forage your steed will have through the fall and winter. Out in the pasture, your horse could wander and nibble whenever the urge struck. During the fall and winter, when your horse may be stabled more often and pasture is not as lush, forage on which to nibble may not be as easily come by. However, you can more closely replicate your horse’s natural feeding patterns when stalled if you are able to keep hay available for the majority of the day. And remember that changes in schedule or feed — even something as simple as changing from one hay to another — need to be undertaken gradually as sudden changes can leave your horse susceptible to founder or colic.

Horses should be fed according to a variety of factors, but size and the type of work done by the horse are two major factors that should be taken into consideration when determining an appropriate feeding regimen. Forage or roughage should make up as much of the diet as possible. Not only is your horse’s system designed to process it, but the energy expenditure associated with consuming these types of feed help your horse generate warmth. Grain should supplement pasture and hay rather than be the main event.

To help your horse with increased amounts of food, you may want to consider feeding her more often. Even though your horse’s nutritional needs are fluctuating with the season, her stomach remains the same size — about as big as a rugby ball. Splitting rations into three to four smaller meals reduces the volume per feed and helps prevent your horse gorging as well as the associated issues that could accompany it.

A proper nutritional plan would not be complete without water. Your horse needs ready access to water in order to stay hydrated, healthy and for proper digestive function. As temperatures drop, many horses will also drop off water consumption. You can encourage additional water intake by ensuring it is offered in a way your horse prefers (bucket vs. automatic waterer), warming the water (horses will generally consume more water if it is warmer rather than cold) and adding electrolytes to the water. If you are trying electrolytes for the first time, be certain to also provide a secondary water source in case your horse won’t drink the electrolyte water. If your horse’s water is not in a temperature-controlled environment, schedule to undertake regular ice checks to ensure your horse continues to have access.

If you have any questions about adjusting your horse’s nutritional plan for fall, please contact our office.

Lameness in Horses

Lameness in Horses

Probably the most common cause of acute lameness in horses, hoof abscesses can appear without warning. One day your horse is sound, the next she’s crippled, but there’s no apparent injury. The likely cause is a hoof abscess, a pimple-like infection. Abscesses are most often caused by the entrance of bacteria into the hoof through penetrating wounds, hoof cracks, and even “close” horseshoeing nails, but a wider variety of issues — anything that weakens the integrity between the sole and hoof wall makes it easier for bacteria to invade or that causes internal injuries — can contribute to the development of an abscess. These additional potential factors include the cycling between wet and dry environmental conditions, poor hoof conformation or balance, ground conditions, bruising (the hemorrhaging area is conducive to bacterial reproduction), hot-fitting a shoe on a very thin sole, hoof wall defects, digital instability and systemic infections.

Hoof abscesses cause pain through a buildup of pressure associated with the accumulation of pus from the infection and the fact that the hoof wall is rigid and cannot expand to relieve the pressure. While some may prefer to allow the abscess to rupture on its own, it is best to treat the abscess, get it drained and prevent further contamination with additional treatment that may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, antiseptic solutions, poultices and soak bandages. The most important aspect of the treatment is establishing appropriate drainage. To do this, we will often try to locate the entry wound and then create drainage through the sole so gravity is on our side and will assist with drawing out the pus. Left untreated, the infection associated with the abscess can travel up the hoof wall and destroy sensitive structures within your horse’s hoof. The resulting damage can lead to more permanent lameness. With proper treatment, progressive improvement should be observed on a daily basis. If such improvement is not observed, additional diagnostics may be necessary to determine the true cause of your horse’s infection and resulting lameness.

Prognosis following treatment depends on the tissues involved and the severity of the infection. Those infections that have remained largely superficial have a much better prognosis than those that have been allowed to involve other structures such as the coffin or navicular bone, navicular bursa, coffin joint, collateral cartilages or tendon sheath.

It may not be possible to prevent all abscesses, but good hoof care will go a long way toward that end. Good hoof care should develop a snug and uniform junction at the sole wall while leaving adequate sole for protection. Routine farrier care and frequent hoof cleaning to remove rocks and debris are also important preventive measures. Being proactive will help protect the soundness of your horse and avoid the pain associated with abscesses.

Preventing Disease Spread During Show Season

Spring time means the start of show season. Truly and exciting time. It is very important to follow some basic biosecurity rules to decrease the spread of disease.

Some recommendations to follow

  • Be sure your horse is current on his/her vaccinations. It is strongly encouraged that
    all vaccinations be given 3-4 week prior to your first show event. Vaccines take time to work and each animal responds differently.
  • Visit our website http://www.catskillvetservices.com or http://www.hvmobilevet.com for our recommendations
  • Check the stalls at the show venue. It is important that the stalls at the venue are clean and in good order. Diseases are most commonly spread by oral/nasal secretions.
  • Be sure to appropriately clean and disinfect all equipment used.
  • Monitor your horse and take their temperature daily.
  • Be sure to have a thermometer handy.
  • If your horse develops a fever they should be immediately isolated. When doing daily chores it is very important to tend to the horse/s with a fever last for the day.
  • Do not allow nose to nose contact. As stated previously many diseases are spread via nasal and oral secretions.

If you are at all concerned about your horse’s health during this show season be sure to speak with us. You are always welcome to email or call with any question or corner.

Interesting Horse Story

An interesting horse story.

We were called out to examine a 22 yr old Quarter Horse that has severe weakness her hind limbs. It was so bad that she appeared to be drunk. During the examination we had been discussing with the owner the horse’s history and concern for her current condition.

During that the owner informed me how he will do whatever needs to be done for Olive. She has been a great companion and saved his life. He told me that a year ago he was sitting out on the lawn and Olive came over to him and put her head on his chest. She was insistent. This went on for a couple of days. Whenever he would go outside she would put her head on his chest. 

The next week he went to the doctor for a physical exam and they took a chest x-ray. He was diagnosed lung cancer and subsequently is entire lung removed. He truly believes that Olive saved his life.

Dogs have been trained to detect some forms of cancer. Perhaps horses can as well….. Loving and caring for an animal can truly safe your life in more way than one.


2015-11-30 14.07.13
A picture of Olive (not the best). Olive’s owner feels that she saved his life by exhibiting abnormal behavior that prompted him to be checked by a doctor. That examination confirmed that Olive’s owner had lung cancer. Luckily, he is doing very well following having his lung removed and following through with chemo treatment.