HomeExpert AdviceArticleWhat is Cushing’s and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)?

What is Cushing’s and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)?

Posted in Health and Veterinary

Cushing’s disease (also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, or PPID) occurs when a tumour called a pituitary adenoma develops in the pituitary gland.

As this tumour slowly grows, it sends signals to the rest of the body to secrete excessive hormones. It is most common in older horses and ponies.

Clinical signs of Cushing’s:

• A long, curly coat that does not shed
• Laminitis
• Abnormal fat deposits on the body
• Weight loss
• Drinking and urinating frequently
• Increased susceptibility to infection
• Reproductive problems

Treatment and prevention of Cushing’s

• A drug that comes in the form of a small tablet, which is given every day.
• A low carbohydrate diet.
• Clipping out ponies who have thick, curly coats as they can overheat.

Treatment is based on managing the disease, and medication is likely to be needed for the rest of the horse’s life. 


Equine Metabolic Syndrome is a hormonal disorder, which causes insulin resistance. Ponies with EMS don’t respond to insulin as they should, so glucose remains in the bloodstream. It is very similar to Type II Diabetes in Humans.

Any pony can be affected by EMS, but it occurs much more frequently in overweight ponies.

Signs of EMS:

• Laminitis (The reason why EMS causes laminitis is the focus of much research)
• Abnormal fat deposits on the body, particularly above the eyes, in the crest and neck, behind the shoulder and at the tail head.
• Obesity, and difficulty in weight loss
• Lethargy
• Excessive drinking and urination

EMS is diagnosed by clinical signs and blood tests. Samples are taken for insulin and glucose as ponies with EMS will show high levels of both. However, in some cases of EMS, blood test can show normal results. This would then require a pony to have more extensive testing, where their response to glucose is measured.

Treatment and prevention of EMS

• Reduce the pony’s calorie intake
• Moderate the mount of grass and hay a pony receives and fit your pony with a grazing muzzle if he lives out to limit his grass intake.
• Don’t feed grains, carrots, apples or other feeds which are high in sugar content.
• Increase exercise levels.


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