Similar to Crushing’s disease in humans and in dogs, Crushing’s disease in horses occurs when a tumour starts to develop in the pituitary gland. This tumour will gradually grow and send improper signals to the rest of the body, causing it to secrete an extreme amount of hormones, usually cortisol, the stress hormone. This disease is often diagnosed in horses over the age of ten.
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Although slow to develop, Crushing’s disease in horses is progressive. The following are the signs that your horse might have Cushing’s disease:
- Weight loss
- Mouth ulcers
- Excessive thirst (frequent trips to the water trough, water hole, etc.)
- Frequent urination (because of excessive drinking)
- Laminitis (inflammation within the hooves structure)
- Changes in body shape (such as the development of large fat deposits along the mane, muscle wasting, and pot belly)
- Hirsutism and abnormal shedding
- Susceptible to infection (to which cuts and scrapes may take a longer time to heal)
Crushing’s disease is mainly caused by a pituitary tumour. Due to this, the pituitary gland will become enlarged and there will be a drastic increase in the production of particular hormones. Along with that, there can also be compression of other parts of the pituitary gland accompanied by a reduction of other hormones or compression of parts that are adjacent to the brain, which may result in seizures and blindness.
The signs and symptoms may be similar to some other horse diseases; therefore, the vet must conduct a physical exam and complete profiling of the blood to be able to rule out other potential causes. Diagnosis must also be based on the horse’s medical history, certain test in hormones, and clinical symptoms. The slow, progressive nature of Crushing’s disease may complicate the diagnosis. The currently recommended tests are the measurement of ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic hormone) concentrations and/or conducting a TRH (thyrotropin-releasing hormone) stimulation test.
Living and Management
- Grooming To help keep the shaggy-coated horses with crushing’s disease stay cool in humid temperatures and warm weather, a body clip is suggested.
- Diet Avoid giving treats, traditional grain feeding, and/or pasture as these may contain high levels of starch and sugar which may cause an improper function of the metabolism of a horse with Crushing’s disease. On the other hand, you can provide your horse with low-sugar and high-fibre feed, mineral supplement, or multivitamin to meet your horse’s nutrient needs, most especially the older/senior horses. For additional calories, you can add fat if necessary.
- Dental care Frequent dental check-ups are suggested for horses with Crushing’s disease as the condition risks sinus infections and periodontal disease.
- Farriery Look out for flares at the toes of your horse or shortened strides at the walk and trot. Keep a close eye on their hooves and gait as well. Laminitis and abscesses in the hooves occur more in horses with Crushing’s disease, which require regular farriery care.
- Parasite control Horses suffering from Crushing’s disease are more prone to internal parasites since their immune system is compromised. It is best to have a discussion with your vet about optimum deworming programmes as well as examine its effectiveness through a periodic faecal egg count.
Since a definitive treatment for Crushing’s disease is not available besides management, there are various ways to effectively control it through medication. The following may do the job; plus, they are thought to be beneficial for older/senior horses in general.
- Pergolide has bees been known to stabilise the health of the majority of the horses. This can be taken orally from 0.2 to 5 mg per day.
- Cyproheptadine used to be the first choice of drug to treat Crushing’s disease before pergolide.
- Bromocriptine, a less popular alternative for pergolide but has also been used to manage Crushing’s disease in horses.
- Supplements that may help includes:
- Chaste berry, which will assist with a better endocrine function.
- Healthy fats, such as omega 3 fatty acids, to prepare a normal response to inflammation
- Antioxidants as well as plant adaptogens to provide immune support and fight oxidative stress.
- Amino acids (threonine, lysine, and methionine) which will support lean muscle mass.
Crushing’s disease in horses is still a challenge for veterinarians to diagnose, whilst it seems to be a management puzzle for horse owners.
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