Insulin Resistance and Cushing’s Disease in horses are metabolic and hormonal disorders that should be closely managed by diet and supplementation. In order to ensure the longevity and performance of your horse, understanding the similarities and differences between both of these disorders can help with choosing the best treatment options so that your horse can feel more comfortable and happy.
What is Insulin Resistance?
Insulin Resistance is a syndrome that usually occurs among young adult horses related to obesity and chronic laminitis. Chronic Laminitis is a disease that harshly affects your horses’ feet and the ability to stay active. Laminitis is caused by an increase in insulin. An insulin-resistant horse is carbohydrate intolerant and likely needs its diet to be closely managed. Common symptoms of insulin resistance include abnormal fat deposits and puffiness in the hollows above your horse's eyes. Your horse can also be seen to have a cresty neck.
What is Cushing’s Disease?
Unlike Insulin Resistance, Cushing’s is a disease. Cushing’s Disease is caused by an enlargement or benign tumor that occurs in a portion of your horse’s pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and produces hormones. With Cushing’s, the normal brain mechanisms that usually control hormone production are damaged. Therefore, there is an excess production of hormones that can affect your horse’s body negatively. If your horse has Cushing’s Disease, it may show signs of increased coat length, possible delayed winter shedding, lethargy, increased sweating, weight loss, and an increase in thirst and urination. Where Insulin Resistance has diet changes at the utmost importance, Cushing’s needs a little bit more TLC for treatments. The oral administration of Pergolide is a common treatment. Pergolide inhibits hormone production and lowers hormone levels. However, Peroglide does have negative side-effects like anorexia and depression.
Low Carbohydrate, Low Fat Diet
A mineral balanced and low-carb, low-fat diet is the primary treatment for horses who have Insulin Resistance and can help with Cushing’s disease in addition to supplements. Ration balancers are low carb, low fat, and a higher protein which lower insulin and also help build muscle in Cushing’s horses.
It’s also popular for owners to go to a 24/7 slow and steady hay feeding program using slow feeder hay nets if they have an insulin-resistant horse. There are several different types of forages, so it's important to choose one that is low in sugar and starch. Some hays that are low in sugar and starch are Alfalfa Hay, Bermuda Grass, or Timothy Grass. Any wheat, oat, or barley hay should be completely avoided. It’s important to remember that hay is essential in helping prevent Laminitis. Your horse eats 70-80% of the day, and this activity is crucial in decreasing stress and steading stress hormones. Choosing hay that ticks all of the right boxes will ensure your horse to be as healthy as possible.
What should you look for in choosing the right hay? You must make sure the percentages of sugars and starches are within the means that your horse can digest without triggering insulin surges. First, take a look at the sugars and make sure that the hay only has under 7.0 ESC, which is on the low end of the spectrum. Second, the normal range of starch that you should be looking for is under 1.6. This is the best range to follow and when you are within these means then you do not need to soak it before feeding.
Equine Medical and Surgical Associates
Proper diet and exercise are essential for horse health. Equine Medical and Surgical Associates are here to help you maintain your horses’ health. In order to ensure that your horse is receiving the right type of medical treatment, you should be tracking your horse’s level of insulin two times a year. High levels of insulin damage the body and using the four-step HEIRO program which is proven to help control insulin resistance.
Equine Medical and Surgical Associates offers a veterinary formulated nutritional supplement called HORSE HEIRO. HEIRO stands for Healthy Equine Insulin Rescue Organicals. This completely organic supplement helps fight laminar injury and improves insulin control. Horses with both Cushing’s Disease and Insulin Resistance have been proven to be more comfortable and overcome pain with the help of HEIRO. For more in-depth information about HEIRO and insulin-resistant diets, check out our in-depth page.