The Magazine November 2019

Equine metabolic syndrome

Posted 10th September 2019

Equine metabolic syndrome is an underlying condition that predisposes horses to laminitis – a common ailment that can be fatal. Victoria South explains what you need to know

Equine metabolic syndrome

Several decades ago, researchers set out to examine laminitis and the common aspects that appear to make certain horses more susceptible to it. These features included the shape, size and type of the horse, as well as blood test findings.

From these investigations came a fairly recently recognised hormone condition called equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). Similar to type 2 diabetes, EMS describes a condition characterised by obesity, insulin resistance and predisposition to laminitis. So, what does this mean for your horse?

What is EMS

Vets define EMS as a problem with…

  • regulation of insulin – the hormone that circulates in the blood and controls the uptake of glucose by the body’s tissues
  • abnormal fat deposits (called adipose tissue), which affects other proteins and hormones in the blood
  • altered levels of other fat-related proteins in the blood

In the genes

Put simply, horses who are very overweight are at a high risk of developing EMS. However, some breeds are genetically more prone to developing it. This means only minor changes in their environment may cause them to get EMS. These breeds include…

  • native ponies
  • miniature horses and ponies
  • Andalusians
  • Morgans
  • warmbloods
  • donkeys

For those who aren’t as genetically predisposed, EMS will only result if the environment is really unsuitable – such as too many calories or a diet high in soluble carbohydrates, starches and sugars.

Common signs of EMS

Horses can develop EMS at any point in their lifetime, so it’s important to be vigilant. The signs that are commonly seen with EMS include…

  • laminitis
  • a cresty neck
  • deposits of fat tissue

Pick up a copy of November Horse&Rider, on sale 19 September, for more information on EMS, how to spot the signs and treatment options.

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