Cushings Syndrome in horses
Cushing’s is a hormone disorder created by a hyper-stimulated pituitary gland which leads to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The pituitary tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol to combat acute health threats – providing an immediate response to stress and injury. The hormone cortisol raises blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which help a horse to endure short periods of stress. Chronic stress causes the body to feel as though it cannot keep inflammation under control and responds by producing more and more cortisol. As the pituitary gland works overtime to fight chronic stress it becomes enlarged, the adrenal glands increase cortisol production and the endocrine system begins to spiral out of control. This chronic adrenal over-stimulation ultimately results in the symptoms diagnosed as Cushing’s syndrome. Stress can cause the worst cumulative negative effects on a horse’s health. Today’s horses, especially those used for performance and showing, are exposed to many sources of low-grade, long-term stress.
- High sugar or carbohydrate diets
- Stall confinement
- Sedation for dental work, castrations & surgery
- Environmental & dietary changes
- Daily dewormers
- And most show medications such as ACTH, Regu-Mate®, etc.
Hundreds of horses with endocrine disorders and emotional issues have been tested with Horse Hair Analysis. They consistently show severe nutritional deficiencies in the four electrolyte minerals, chromium, selenium and cobalt. A significant percentage also have a toxic metal present in their body, such as arsenic or lead, that must be chelated from the body in order for it regain health. For more information on the stressors of Cushings, please read our other blog post.