Cushing’s and EMS: What’s the Difference?

Practitioners must use clinical signs and laboratory testing to distinguish between these sometimes similar ailments.

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Horses with EMS are often “easy keepers” and have regional adiposity, or fat deposits in the crest of the neck, tailhead, prepuce, and flanks. | Photo: iStock

Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or equine Cushing’s disease) and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) are by far the most common endocrine disorders in horses. In fact, recent study results suggest that up to 30% of horses of some breeds suffer from one of these conditions during their lifetimes.

While these potentially career- and life-ending diseases are distinctly different in the damage that they cause, they do share some similarities; laminitis, for instance, is associated with both. This can make distinguishing them from one another and selecting appropriate treatment challenging.

Kelsey Hart, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, assistant professor of large animal internal medicine in the University of Georgia’s Department of Large Animal Medicine, reviewed current recommendations for PPID and EMS testing at the 2015 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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