Feeding Horses with Cushing's
With improved knowledge, veterinary care and nutrition, horses and ponies are living much longer and many calls to the Dengie Feedline relate to individuals who are well into their twenties and beyond. There are many consequences to horses getting older such as poor dentition and the increased risk of developing age-related diseases such as Cushing's disease.
What is Cushing's Disease?
Cushing's disease results from a tumour of the pituitary gland which is situated at the base of the brain. The Pituitary gland is responsible for the regulation of the horse's endocrine system which is a system of glands positioned throughout the body that secrete hormones.
Cortisol is a hormone that is important for the control of metabolism including balancing the effects of insulin. In healthy horses and ponies, the level of cortisol production is regulated via negative feedback. In individuals with Cushing's disease the "switch off" mechanism doesn't work and so the levels of cortisol become very high resulting in the symptoms associated with Cushing's disease.
Symptoms of Cushing's Disease:
Horses and ponies may exhibit one or more of a number of symptoms the most easily recognisable is hirsutism, which is a thick, shaggy or curly coat. Some horses and ponies can look pot bellied as a result of significant muscle loss on the top line, whilst others may hve significant weight loss even though their appetite appears to have increased. If a horse or pony shows any of these symptoms a vet will be able to perform some tests to diagnose whether or not the horse or pony has Cushing's disease. Further complications of Cushing's disease include insulin resistance similar to type II diabetes in humans and also laminitis.
Managing Cushing's Disease:
Although Cushing's disease cannot be cured it is possible to manage the symptoms so that horses and ponies can lead a relatively normal life. The dietary management of horses and ponies with Cushing's disease is based on the same principles as feeding horses and ponies prone to laminitis, namely low sugar and low starch. This is because meals containing sugar and starch can exacerbate the problem of insulin resistance which also increases the risk of laminitis. This can mean that some cereal based senior horse feeds are unsuitable for Cushing's affected horses and ponies and at certain times of the year, such as the spring and autumn months, grazing may have to be restricted or avoided.
Due to the nature of the disease it is thought that every horse or pony with Cushing's disease will eventually get laminitis. Unfortunately this means that you can be doing everything right with regards to your horse or pony's diet and yet laminitis may still occur.
Suitable Feeds for Horse and Ponies Affected by Cushing's Disease:
Dengie Fibre Feeds are all based on alfalfa with the Alfa-A range containing pure alfalfa and the Hi-Fi range which combines alfalfa with other fibre sources such as straw or grass. For horses and ponies in work or that need extra condition the Alfa-A range is likely to be most suitable, whilst for those that maintain condition with ease the Hi-Fi range is likely to be more appropriate.
Alfalfa is a plant that is naturally low in sugar and starch and is therefore suitable for horses and ponies with Cushing's disease or prone to laminitis. Dengie produce several low sugar feeds including Alfa-A Oil, Alfa-Beet, Alfalfa Pellets, Alfa-A Lite and Hi-Fi Lite, which would be particularly well suited to horses and ponies with these problems. Examples of suitable feeding plans are given below but if you would like specific advice for your horse than please call the Dengie Feedline on 0845 345 5115 or click here to complete a ration evaluation form and get a personalised feeding plan.
Indian Imp is a 23 year old 16hh TB gelding who has Cushing's disease and is prone to laminitis. Imp has been managed on restricted grazing, hay and Hi-Fi Lite for many years to try and keep his bodyweight under control. Recently Imp's owner Sue wanted to know whether there was any extra support she could give Imp with his advancing years.
Hi-Fi Lite 2kg (2 full Dengie Measuring Buckets)
Alfa-Beet 0.25kg (dry weight before soaking)
Natural Vitality Senior Vits & Mins (1 measure daily)
Hi-Fi Lite is still the most suitable Fibre Feed for Imp as it is useful for keeping his bodyweight under control. As Hi-Fi Lite has only 4% sugar it is suitable for horses and ponies prone to laminitis and those that have Cushing's disease. A small quantity of Alfa-Beet, a combination of alfalfa and unmolassed sugar beet, was also suggested as an addition to the ration. As Alfa-Beet is fed soaked it carries water into the digestive tract which can help to maintain a healthy digestive system. To support Imp through his advancing years Dengie Natural Vitality Senior Vits & Mins was suggested. Natural Vitality Senior Vits & Mins contains a broad-spectrum of vitamins and minerals to provide a balanced diet, the prebiotics FOS and MOS to maintain a healthy digestive system and glucosamine for joint support.
Royal is a 28 year old, 14hh Welsh pony who has been diagnosed with Cushing's disease. Royal's owners contacted the Dengie Feedline as their vet had advised he would need a special diet to help manage his condition. Royal lives out during the day and is stabled at night when he is given hay. Royal usually holds weight well, but tends to lose condition in the winter.
Suggested ration, winter months:
Alfa-A Lite 2kg (approximately 5 large round scoops)
Alfa-Beet 0.5kg (approximately quarter of a large round scoop before soaking)
Natural Vitality Senior Vits & Mins (1 measure daily)
Alfa-A Lite is pure alfalfa with a low sugar coating and has a calorie level similar to a cool mix/cube, makingit useful for horses and ponies that need help to maintain their conditin, yet need a low sugar and starch ration. Alfa-Beet was also suggested as an additional conditioning fibre source.
For general advice on feeding lamintics why not look at our articles on "Feeding Horses and Ponies Prone to Laminitis" and for veterans, try "Feeding the Older Horse or Pony", or call the feedline on 0845 345 5115 to speak to one of our nutritionists.