Cushings disease (also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID), is a reality for many owners of senior horses. It generally presents itself when the horse is around 19 years old—although it can be earlier or later— and some symptoms include excessive sweating, a long hair coat that doesn’t shed properly, weight issues, and more serious symptoms like laminitis and insulin resistance. These horses are also more vulnerable to infections and intestinal parasites.
Basically (very, very basically), Cushings disease happens because the pituitary gland has microtumors and is malfunctioning, so there is an excess of hormones in the body. There is a blood test that can be done to check the ACTH level, and that is a good indicator of whether or not the horse has Cushings, as well as evaluating the rest of the horse’s condition. Fortunately, Cushings disease is manageable. It is generally treated with a daily dose of pergolide and a change in diet away from sugars. Preventative care for these horses is extremely important (vaccines, farrier work, dentals, etc.).
My horse, Moose, was recently diagnosed with Cushings at 19 and a half years old. The high end of a normal ACTH level in a horse is 35; Moose’s level was 313 at the time of his diagnosis. He has been losing weight steadily over the past year, and I thought it was simply because he was on pasture board and not getting any grain as well as his getting older. Cut to me feeding him Equine Senior, shredded beet pulp, and Weight Builder every day throughout the winter (even during the polar vortex!), and he still wouldn’t gain any weight. I decided to move him to a full board facility, where the veterinarian decided to pull blood for the ACTH level during Moose’s dental because of his condition and that’s when we found out. He also had a very high count of intestinal parasites in his fecal (fun), so the staff at my barn was kind enough to give him the Panacur Power Pack for me.
Thanks to the vet and the amazing staff at my barn, Moose started the Prascend (pergolide) almost immediately after his diagnosis. He is now steadily gaining weight, shedding out his nasty leftover winter coat, and acting much more like his old self. Fair warning: it is not an inexpensive medication. It is manageable but keep in mind that it is another financial commitment that you’re making to your horse. I will also say that it is 100% worth it. I can’t stress enough how Moose’s condition and demeanor has improved since he’s started the Prascend, and the vet has assured me that he’ll be sound to ride again soon.