Equine Cushing's disease

One of the hormonal causes of laminitis


Equine Cushing's disease can cause a range of symptoms including laminitis

What is Equine Cushing's disease?

Equine Cushing's disease is a hormonal disease caused by changes in the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. This gland is normally controlled by a substance called dopamine, and it's role is to produce hormones which play an important role in maintaining and controlling a wide variety of bodily functions. Horses and ponies with Equine Cushing's disease don't produce enough dopamine, which means that the pituitary gland becomes uncontrolled and produces too many hormones. One of these hormones is called ACTH but there are many other hormones.

What is the link between Equine Cushing's disease and laminitis?

The exact mechanism by which Equine Cushing's disease contributes to laminitis is unknown, although it is likely to be linked to the increased hormone levels associated with this condition. Research shows that horses with untreated Cushing's are five times more likely to develop laminitis than horses without this condition1.

How is Equine Cushing's disease diagnosed?

There is no perfect test to detect whether a horse or pony has Equine Cushing's disease, but the basal ACTH test is the recommended first line test for this disease. Your vet will want to take a blood sample from your horse in order to measure blood levels of ACTH. The results of this test can then be compared to “normal” ranges for the horse population, to confirm the presence or absence of Equine Cushing's disease.

Can Equine Cushing's disease be treated?

Yes. Your veterinary surgeon can prescribe a simple daily medication that will normalise your horse's hormone production and improve your horse or pony's symptoms.



1. McGowan, T., Pinchbeck, G., McGowan, C. (2013). Prevalence, risk factors and clinical signs predictive for equine pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction in aged horses Equine Veterinary Journal  45(1), 74-79.