Diagnosing and Managing Endocrine Disorders in Senior Horses

Endocrine problems are common in elderly equids. By screening all equine seniors for such problems veterinarians can pick out problem horses quickly and implement treatment protocol.

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More than 20% of aged horses are known to suffer from equine Cushing’s disease (also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID), a harmful endocrine condition that can carry with it a host of other dangerous health problems. To give our elderly equids their best chance at comfort, one researcher recently described best practices for diagnosis and treatment of this and other metabolic problems, and he recommended that veterinarians screen all aged horses for these disorders, confirming their magnitude.

Nicholas Frank, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, reviewed the presentation, diagnosis, and medical management of aged horses with Cushing’s disease, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), hyperinsulinemia (HI), and insulin resistance at the 2013 American Association of Equine Practitioners' Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Disease Presentations

One of the challenges of recognizing equine endocrine disorders is that early signs are difficult to recognize and affected horses don't always exhibit the same signs. And while veterinarians see PPID most frequently in horses beyond 20 years old, early disease is now being recognized in horses as young as 10 years of age. EMS can occur in young or old animals, and it is most often associated with obesity and HI (or high circulating levels of insulin in the blood). Horses with HI seem to be more likely to develop laminitis than other horses, so diagnosing this problem is an important focus of testing for horses of all ages.

Frank, a professor of large animal internal medicine and chair of the department of clinical sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, in N

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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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