The Trouble With Long Hair Cushings Disease

The Trouble With Long Hair Cushings Disease

As summer sets in​ most horses have shed their winter coats. But some older horses are still clinging to​ their winter coat. Some have not shed it​ at​ all.

Failure to​ shed the​ winter coat is​ a​ good indication that a​ horse has Cushing's disease.

Cushing's disease is​ being recognised more and more frequently in​ older horses and ponies. the​ condition is​ named because of​ its similarities to​ the​ human disease of​ the​ same name. But there are significant differences.

Equine Cushing's disease is​ associated with excessive cortisol production by the​ adrenal gland. in​ almost all cases,​ it​ is​ caused by increased activity in​ the​ intermediate lobe of​ the​ pituitary gland,​ which sits at​ the​ base of​ the​ brain. the​ underlying problem seems to​ lie with nerves that should limit the​ activity of​ the​ affected part of​ the​ gland.

In normal horses,​ ACTH,​ a​ hormone from the​ pituitary gland,​ stimulates the​ release of​ cortisol from the​ adrenal glands. the​ blood cortisol level is​ controlled by a​ complex "feed back” mechanism. Basically,​ an​ increase in​ blood cortisol inhibits further ACTH release,​ which in​ turn causes the​ cortisol level to​ fall.

In horses with Cushing's disease the​ abnormal pituitary gland produces ACTH,​ and other related molecules,​ some of​ which increase the​ “potency” of​ ACTH. in​ addition,​ the​ abnormal gland does not respond to​ the​ normal feedback controls. Most of​ the​ signs seen with Cushing's disease are due to​ the​ increased cortisol activity.

Often the​ first sign that a​ horse is​ affected with Cushing's disease is​ hirsutism,​ the​ development of​ an​ excessively long and often curly coat. Shedding of​ the​ coat that normally occurs in​ summer either does not occur at​ all or​ is​ greatly reduced.

Other signs include excessive sweating,​ weight loss,​ poor performance,​ increased drinking and passing increased amounts of​ urine. Almost all affected animals go on​ to​ develop laminitis eventually. Because the​ laminitis in​ these cases is​ the​ result of​ internal problems rather than a​ momentary dietary indiscretion,​ it​ is​ often more difficult to​ treat than laminitis due to​ dietary causes.

Various tests have been used to​ help to​ confirm the​ diagnosis. Unfortunately the​ tests can sometimes be misleading. in​ most cases they are not necessary. There is​ really only one condition that causes older horses not to​ shed their hair in​ summer - and that is​ Cushing’s disease.

So,​ what can be done for​ horses with Cushing’s disease? Veterinarians have used a​ variety of​ medications,​ originally intended for​ human use,​ to​ treat Cushing's disease in​ horses. the​ most effective seems to​ be a​ drug called pergolide. if​ the​ treatment is​ successful,​ as​ well as​ showing a​ general improvement in​ condition,​ a​ horse may start to​ shed its coat again.

Some people have found that herbal mixtures containing chaste berry extracts have helped,​ but others disagree.

Clipping the​ excessive coat will make the​ horse more comfortable,​ and may reduce the​ risk of​ skin infections. Regular corrective trimming of​ the​ feet is​ likely to​ be necessary once laminitis develops.

The onset of​ Cushing’s disease need not necessarily mean a​ horse’s days are numbered. But once you​ spot the​ telltale signs have a​ word with your veterinarian to​ discuss the​ options that are available for​ managing the​ condition.

The Trouble With Long Hair Cushings Disease

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