Diagnosis and Treatment of Cushing’s Disease Older Horses

(Dr. Chris Blevins) Hello. I’m Dr. Chris Blevins at Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center with Horsin’ Around. Today, we’re going to talk about something that is very crucial to remember when you have older horses. And what are geriatric or older horses? Usually some horse that is greater than 15 to 20 years of age. When they start to get older, we need to consider Cushing’s disease as a possibility of something that they can get. That’s a tumor or a growth within the brain that secretes different aspects of increasing steroids within their body. With that disease, they can have different things that you can see even if you manage them or look at them on a day-to-day basis. One of the most common things that we see with Cushing’s horses is a horse that does not shed off or have a long hair coat especially during the spring, summer and fall months. And with that, we need to consider, not just if they have a real, real, long hair coat, but even a slightly long hair coat as being one of the first indicators that maybe Cushing’s disease would be something you need to get worked up. How would you get that worked up? You need to consult your veterinarian to decide what’s the next best thing to do, what’s the next best step in testing to try to decipher whether you need to treat your horse for Cushing’s disease. Other signs that you may see at home: maybe the horse is drinking more water, maybe they’re urinating more, maybe the horse is standing out in the middle of the sun and not regulating their temperature very well. Some things that also happen with these horses is they don’t sweat, or they sweat very little. And in those aspects, the horse can then become overheated. So taking your horse’s temperature and making sure it’s not becoming overheated. If you’re concerned about Cushing’s disease, it’s something you need to keep in mind especially during the hot days, during the summer. For testing, we can do multiple things. One is a blood test, and that can be done at different times of the year. But during the September or fall time frame, it’s not the best time to test for the disease. Sometimes we treat based on clinical science. Have a longer hair coat? Maybe they’re sore on their front feet because they can founder with Cushing’s disease. So based on symptoms, sometimes we treat. There is a medication that can be given to these horses if they do have Cushing’s disease – that is a pill that they give once a day. Consult your veterinarian to decide if your horse needs that medication and when to start it or if there are other things that need to be incorporated or investigated about whether your horse has Cushing’s disease. I think that the biggest problem that we have with a lot of times horses and Cushing’s disease is there’s a wide array of signs that we may be seeing. Sometimes it’s just a small amount of hair that’s hanging on on these older horses, sometimes they can be a real shaggy looking or curly hair coat, and they’re foundering, and that’s more of the extensive aspect, sometimes, they’re not even sweating. So I think making sure that you talk with your veterinarian to decide whether or not you need to do some extra investigation and possibly treating on your own your horse, if you’re concerned with Cushing’s disease. Again, talk to your veterinarian. You could even give us a call here at Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center if you have extra questions about Cushing’s disease. I’m Dr. Chris Blevins with Horsin’ Around and we’ll see you around.

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