‘Cushings’(also called Hyperadrenocorticism) is a disease of the
endocrine system. It is caused by an abnormality of the pituitary
gland, at the base of the brain, which makes the body produce
excessive amounts of cortisol – the body’s natural steroid
The effects of Cushing's Disease can be seen throughout the body.
You may have noticed your horse having:
Pot bellied appearance,
Loss of topline muscle.
A thick wavy hair coat in the summer – failure to shed its
Complications of Cushings
Immunosuppression that could cause your horse to be prone to
other diseases especially skin diseases like rain scald.
Laminitis. Signs include: Lameness
Heat in the feet
Increased digital pulses in the feet
Reluctant or hesitant gait ("walking on eggshells")
A "sawhorse stance," with the front feet stretched out in front
to alleviate pressure on the toes and the hind feet "camped out"
or positioned further back than normal to bear more weight.
Rings in hoof wall that become wider as they are followed from
toe to heel
Dropped soles or flat feet
What happens next – Treatment from the Vet
There are a number of treatments available for the treatment of
Your vet will decide which is the best treatment for your horse
but the principle behind each treatment is very similar. Each
treatment is lifelong.
Within the brain a substance called Dopamine prevents
overproduction of hormones. Serotonin is another naturally
occurring substance, which has the opposite effect. So, to treat
your horse you can either use a drug which mimics dopamine
(Bromocriptine or more commonly used, Pergolide) or a drug which
blocks the effect of Serotonin (Cyproheptidine).
Trilostane, a drug that blocks cortisol, is another alternative,
which is about to be licensed in the UK. Ask your vet for further
How can you help?
The increase in cortisol is similar to the effects of stress, so
decreasing the stress experienced by your horse will help. This
can be done by:
Sticking to a strict routine
Provide a safe comfortable, quiet haven for the horse.
Avoiding turnout with aggressive horses.
Keeping feed and water conveniently located.
Clipping the horse in warm weather and using rugs when cold.
Keep the horse well groomed to minimize skin disease.
Inspect the hooves daily, keep in good shape, and monitor for
signs of laminitis (see above).
Minimize contact with new horses.
Immunize as necessary.
Check dental health.
Provide a high quality, easily digestible diet.
Prognosis and Long Term Outcome
Treatment is lifelong, as is management. This condition cannot be
cured but horses can continue in comfort for many years.
Laminitis is the most serious complication.