Testing for Equine Cushing’s Disease

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is key to managing pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction. Here are the pros and cons of PPID tests, old and new.

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Testing for Equine Cushing
It has no cure. Diagnostic options are limited. And it affects a larger proportion of senior horses. But fortunately, it's treatable. This disease is pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, formerly referred to as equine Cushing's disease). | Photo: iStock

Weighing the pros and cons of pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction tests old and new

In decades past, owners and veterinarians simply attributed many conditions for which nothing could be done to “old age.” Today we have specific diagnoses and treatments for several of these once-hopeless issues. One such disease is pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), also referred to as equine Cushing’s disease. Australian researchers recently estimated that PPID occurs in 21% of horses over age 15, and animals in this age group are at an increased risk of developing the condition.  

Veterinarians can diagnose advanced PPID based on a horse’s physical appearance. Andy Durham, BSc, BVSc, CertEP, DEIM, Dipl. ECEIM, MRCVS, a partner at Liphook Equine Hospital, in the U.K., and a leading equine Cushing’s specialist, reports, “The commonest signs are laminitis, muscle wastage, slow or incomplete shedding of a long, curly winter coat, susceptibility to infections, and excess thirst with excess urination.”  

Nicholas Frank, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, professor of large animal medicine at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, adds that PPID is a particular concern in horses that already suffer from insulin problems (insulin is an important hormone responsible for regulating the blood concentration of glucose, the body’s most important fuel molecule) as part of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS, a metabolic and hormonal disorder characterized by obesity, regional adiposity, insulin resistance, and laminitis)

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Written by:

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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