Category Archives: Horse Care

Understanding Equine Cushings & Equine Metobolic Syndrome



Cushings (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction)

Cushings in horses is a disease of the pituitary gland, specifically the pars intermedia. This is unlike Cushings disease in other species in which either the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland may be affected.  Due to this species difference, experts prefer to call this disease Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID).  This area of the pituitary becomes hyperplastic (enlarged; often on a microscopic level) and causes the body to secrete excess of certain hormones.  This leads to a variety of symptoms, such as a long hair coat, failure to shed out in the spring, a cresty neck, abnormal fat deposits, wasting of the topline, chronic infection, and laminitis. 

Testing for PPID usually involves a blood test, either an endogenous ACTH test or a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test.  Both tests should be done in a low-stress situation as stress can artificially raise the levels and give a false positive result to the test.  When testing from August – November a higher reference range for these tests must be used as all horses have natural increase in these levels during the fall months

The Good: 

For most horses PPID is very manageable.  The drug Pergolide is the mainstay of treatment, but sometimes the drug Cyproheptadine is also used.  Cyproheptadine is generally not as effective in managing PPID when used alone but when used is often in conjunction with pergolide.

The Bad: 

Though PPID is treatable it is not curable and these horses need daily treatment to manage the disease. Horses with PPID will often then need years of treatment which can be a financial strain.  The disease in some horses will become resistant to treatment, requiring an increased dose of pergolide or pergolide + cyproheptadine to control symptoms, which then further increases the cost of treatment.

The Ugly:

The worst consequence of PPID (particularly in uncontrolled PPID) is laminitis.  Laminitis is a disease involving severe inflammation within the feet.  It can range in severity and each case is different, but it is the number one reason horses with PPID are euthanized. 

Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a condition in horses involving obesity and insulin resistance.  These horses are the classic “easy keeper”, maintaining or even gaining weight with fairly little food.  Insulin resistance is a condition in which the horses’ insulin receptors are no longer sensitized to insulin and the horse therefore must make more and more insulin in order to get the same response by cells.  Symptoms include obesity, abnormal fat deposits (termed by specialists as “regional adiposity”) and laminitis, which can range in severity. 

Testing includes a fasting insulin blood test.  For this test the horse is fasted for 10-12 hours prior to blood collection.  Insulin levels can be altered by feed, in particular grains, which is why most clinicians prefer fasting prior to the test.  Since the symptoms of EMS can be similar to those of PPID, often testing for both is done at the same time.

The Good: 

This condition is treatable with diet and exercise and occasionally medications, such as thyroid medication.  While true hypothyroidism is rare in horses, thyroid medications can improve glucose utilization and insulin sensitivity and can encourage weight loss, particularly those that are not able to be exercised.

The Bad:

Getting these horses to lose a significant amount of weight can be very frustrating and takes perseverance.  Most of these horse require a strict low-carbohydrate/low sugar diet, which usually means little to no grass.  These horses often need to be on this strict diet for life, as they gain weight easily and are at an increased risk for laminitis.  A consistent exercise program is also essential in maintaining these horses.  Exercise is a key factor in achieving weight loss, and it increases the sensitivity of the insulin receptors as well.

The Ugly:

 Like PPID, this disease can lead to laminitis.  EMS horses with laminitis are in the proverbial “between a rock and a hard place” – they need to lose weight to improve their insulin sensitivity, but they are too lame to get the needed exercise to help their condition.

Bugging OUT: The Battle of the Bugs!


Have you ever felt like a warrior or wizard when you are trying to protect your horse(s) from biting flies, gnats, deerflies and mosquitoes? Have you ever declared war on the flies in your barn? I do, have, and will continue too, but I wonder if I am alone?

The following steps may or may not be top secret, but one thing is for sure, every summer, horse people do wage war on bugs and there is sufficient evidence that these steps work!

Step 1: Becoming the wizard; preparing your horse for chemical warfare.

Of course, by chemical warfare, what I mean is suiting up in an invisible layer of “under-armor.” To do this, envision you are a wizard and you are concocting a very special potion.  Using three different fly sprays (ones that might have worked for your horse), spray your horse all over his body, thoroughly coating him in a fine mist of each. Next apply a magical salve (a.k.a. some kind of repellent cream), being sure to target his belly, ears, eyes, muzzle, armpits, and in his sheath area.

When both are applied correctly, your horse will be thoroughly drenched, possibly even dripping wet.   The theory behind this “slightly excessive” tactic, is that at least one of the four products might be a useful defense in making the bugs  fly away, fearing for their life. However, it is not likely, UNLESS of course, ALL four are used together! This might be defense enough for the thickest-skinned horses, but why take any chances? Please proceed to step two.

Step 2: Preparing the warrior; introducing Captain Bug-buster!

WARNING: Captain Bug-buster has been known to cause the stable staff, boarders, and neighbors to fall down in fits of laughter. Seriously, your other horse friends might laugh at you and your horse, but pay no attention to that. Instead, prepared to be WOW’d! Once your horse transforms into Captain Bug-Buster, watch and be amazed at his effective abomination of bugs. You will see them bounce off him several times but don’t be alarmed. Simply the sight of Captain Bug-Buster grips them in such a way that they fly blindly, fearing for their lives. After the first few bounces, you will notice them fly off, never to be seen again (that is, of course, until tomorrow).

To turn your horse into Captain Bug-buster, he will first need a mask to protect his identity. We suggest this because there is a theory that bugs cannot tell one Captain Bug-buster from another provided the horse is wearing a mask! Next, you will need a cape which will also act as a shield. What better then a high neck fitted fly sheet? Even better would be one that is infused with bug repellent!  That would be a bugs triple “Whammy!”


So for a recap, we’ve got under-armor, then our Captain Bug-buster costume, and if you do not have a bug repellent infused fly sheet, no worries, you can always spritz one more layer of fly spray all over Captain Bug-buster!

Not into chemical warfare? There are other all natural products out there that are effective to varying degrees. One new product that is getting 5-star reviews is the BugPellent Pest Control system. It contains only natural essential oils and organic waxes. It can be used in a number of areas including in a barn, garage, patio deck, and even hang it from trees in the pastures! If you’re looking for something topical, I have also discovered that several homesteading blogs have instructions on how to make your own all natural bug repellents! Finally, one can look into biological warfare such as using harmless (to human and horses alike), gnat-sized wasps and fly parasites which are known  natural enemies of flies.

Does any of this sound remotely familiar to what you might do? If so PLEASE let me know, so that I know I am not alone! Also by leaving a comment about this blog, you will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a free BugPellent Pest Control starter kit!


Winner will be selected from those that leave a comment or a question between 6/11/2013 & 6/25/2013. Winner must have a valid US mailing address!

Fit or Fat? The Overfed Horse

Most, if not all of our employees here at Big Dee’s are true horse-people. Meaning they have owned, worked with, and/or show/shown horses. Many have been involved in the horse industry for numerous years. Within that knowledge, we’ve all had personal experiences with horse related products. We know what products really work and we want to share our experiences with our customers!

I freely admit, since my horse has retired, I spoil him rotten  horse treats and extra hay. Not to mention an excellent high-quality Diet Balancer feed. Including all of the supplements he is on for his joints, digestion and immune system.

In all seriousness, overweight horses are at a greater risk for developing major health issues, and Dr. Corey Paradine wrote the blog below to help horse owners trim down their plump ponies and keep them in fit condition.


The Over-fed Horse

There are a lot of fat horses these days, and it’s a problem.  A serious problem.  A problem that is so widespread that peoples’ assessment of normal is becoming skewed – often what most consider to be normal is actually obese, and what is actually healthy is often seen as too lean.

Horses are not exempt from health risks associated with obesity. Insulin resistance, for example, is a common weight-related disease.  Insulin resistance is a disease in which the bodies’ insulin receptors become increasingly resistant to insulin and as such the body must increase the levels of insulin to achieve the desired effect – mainly, affecting glucose uptake by cells.  Think of it as Type 2 diabetes in people – not exactly the same disease but similar.  Inappropriately large body size also increases the stress on many joints and ligaments – in other words, increases the “wear and tear” on them by having to carry more weight than they should every minute of every day as well as increasing their load during performance.

So your horse is fat – now what?

Diet and exercise.  Calories IN must be less than calories OUT in order to shed pounds.  Grain should be cut first when starting to decrease feed.  Many horses, especially the easy keepers, do not need grain in their diet.  The horses’ digestive tract is made to digest forages, not grains, and unless the grain is needed to meet energy requirements (often high performing horses, like racehorses, eventers, barrel horses), it’s unnecessary.  That being said, a diet of hay or grass alone is not considered to be a balanced diet. While a lot of horses do not need grain, they should be fed a diet balancer to provide vitamins and minerals. Most major feed companies make one.

Weight tapes are useful to help gauge weight loss – I recommend using a weight tape every couple weeks and keeping a log of the number.  It can be very useful to chart trends in your horses’ weight.  It’s important to be consistent in your placement of the tape as you can create false “gains” or “losses” by inconsistent placement and tension on the tape.  The tape is most accurate when placed in the girth area, just behind the elbows and over the withers.

Weight loss is not always easy.

There is considerable evidence that there are genetic factors that contribute to a propensity for weight gain and even insulin resistance.  It takes time and persistence and often a complete lifestyle/management change to achieve and maintain significant weight loss in many of these horses.  Products like slow-feeder hay nets are helpful for horses on strict diets as they slow feed intake and make the limited amount of hay last longer for the horse.

Another key component to feeding is weighing feed (both grains/diet balancers and forages) as horses should be fed by weight (so many pounds of hay per day, so many pounds of grain or diet balancer per day – recommended amounts depend on the individual) rather than volume (flakes, scoops, coffee cans….).  Your veterinarian can provide some guidance for your individual horse, and it may benefit to contact a feed representative or nutritionist as well.