By Angela Ardolino
Updated on January 5, 2021
When something is happening with your horse, it can be frustrating when attempting to determine the underlying cause. If you suspect your horse has Cushing’s Disease, or if your horse has already been diagnosed, it can be even more confusing to know how to manage the condition. If your horse has been diagnosed with Cushing’s, or if you think that your horse may have Cushing’s, we can help.
Cushing’s Disease, scientifically known as hypercortisolism and hyperadrenocorticism, is an endocrine disorder that causes your horse’s body to produce too much cortisone or cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is a hormone that helps control stress, weight, infections, and blood sugar. Too much cortisol can wreak havoc on your horse’s overall well-being.
Symptoms of Cushing’s in Horses
Like with dogs, the onset of Cushing’s is slow and symptoms may not be immediately apparent. According to horse vet, Dr. Diane Wagner, the following symptoms may be recognized with Cushing’s:
Long, thick haircoat
Potbelly with ribs showing
Loss of topline muscle tone
Polydipsic (excessive thirst)
Polyuric (excessive urination)
Infections easily obtained
Small abrasions can become major
A horse’s coat may take years to show the effects of dysfunction from the pituitary gland. Prior to a large difference being observed, your horse may begin to develop small, patchy areas of long fur. Your horse may also develop a winter coat ahead of the cold season and shed the coat prior to normal. At first, many horse lovers may think there is some type of nutrient deficiency or environmental issue. It’s important, if you do notice patchy fur, to make an appointment with your veterinarian. If your horse isn’t diagnosed with Cushing’s, great. But, if he or she is, then you just caught it early and it can be treated sooner.
Horses with Cushing’s are more prone to chronic infections including dental disease, sinusitis, and abscesses due to their immune system being suppressed (lack of cortisol). Horses with Cushing’s may also experience recurring bouts of laminitis.
Mares with Cushing’s disease may also experience their own set of additional problems including:
Failure to cycle
Stallions may also exhibit decreased sperm count, and therefore, decreased fertility.
Managing Cushing’s in Horses
According to Dr. Diane Wagner, the traditional method used to treat Cushing’s Disease often involves Pergolide. Although Pergolide is generally well-tolerated in horses, synthetic medications often involve side effects, the risk of overdosing, and dependence on a non-natural substance. Instead, more natural options can provide your horse relief without the stress of surgery or liver-damaging medications.
Dr. Wagner states “as a holistic veterinarian, I start with glandular support (Standard Process Paraplex or Pituitrophin, depending on the case), herbal pituitary support (Chasteberry tincture), and adaptogenic herbs (APF+) to manage cortisol produced by adrenals, and resulting glucose:insulin balance.” Dr. Wagner is now learning about the benefits of another natural source; CBD for horses.
CBD for Horses
Full spectrum hemp extract (CBD) may also help treat Cushing’s Disease by treating the hormonal imbalance and shrinking, or even eliminating, the tumors causing the issue. In fact, one of the primary uses of hemp extract is to treat tumors. In research conducted by A.B. Hancock Jr. Memorial Laboratory for Cancer Research, Departments of Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Pharmacology, Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology, Center in Molecular Toxicology, Vanderbilt Ingram Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers concluded that CBD is promising in the treatment of cancer and tumors.
Another recent study found that CBD inhibits the growth of cancerous cells in mice with pancreatic and bladder cancer. Not only did CBD inhibit cancerous cell growth, but also proved to prevent future tumors. The conclusion of this study noted that CBD could be a viable option to treat tumors in both humans and animals.
From a hormonal standpoint, full-spectrum hemp extract (CBD) works to treat the imbalance which may be causing the tumors in the first place. This means that full spectrum hemp extract (CBD) can correct the hormonal imbalance in pituitary and adrenal Cushing’s. In a study conducted by the Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, Southern Illinois University, researchers found that cannabinoid exposure could have profound effects on the function of the endocrine stress axis. Additionally, hemp seed oil contains the perfect balance of omega fatty acids and is high in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid – all of which contribute to healthy hormone balance.
Essentially, CBD can aid in bringing the body back to balance (AKA homeostasis). The compounds found in a full spectrum hemp extract help trigger the right response, and effective communication among cells, which will allow the body to heal itself naturally. Of course, discuss the implementation of CBD in your horse’s regimen with a veterinarian; a holistic veterinarian may be more knowledgeable regarding alternative methods, but feel free to ask your family equine veterinarian as well. This is a topic that is not yet taught in vet school, but is now available for veterinarians and veterinary professionals seeking to learn about the benefits. That’s why some veterinarians may be able to answer questions about CBD, whereas others have not yet studied the topic.
Remember, if your horse is taking medication to treat their Cushing’s and you would like to use holistic options, in many cases you should begin to wean them off of the medication. Discuss with your holistic veterinarian the safest way to wean your horse off of any medications they are currently prescribed as well as the most effective method to implement their new regimen. If your horse doesn’t have Cushing’s, knowing the symptoms of Cushing’s can help you catch it early should he or she ever develop the condition.
About Angela Ardolino
Angela Ardolino is a holistic pet expert who has been caring for animals for over 20 years and operates a rescue farm, Fire Flake Farm, in Florida. She is also the owner of Beautify the Beast, a natural pet salon and shop. After getting her certificate in Medical Cannabis Biology and Therapeutic use from the University of Vermont School of Medicine, she founded CBD Dog Health to provide high quality, all-natural medical cannabis products designed specifically for pets. Angela has seven dogs, Odie a 12-year-old mini-schnauzer, Nina an 8-year-old Doberman. Jolene a 7-year-old mutt, Maza a 7-year-old mutt, Rhemi an 8-year-old poodle, Potato a 15-year-old shih-tzu, and Miss Daisie a 15-year-old black lab, plus 4-10 more at any time she is fostering or boarding. She uses Full Spectrum Hemp Extract on all her pets at her rescue farm every day, and has since 2016. She is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, the Veterinary Cannabis Association and has trained hundreds medical doctors and veterinarians about the therapeutic uses of medical cannabis on animals. Visit www.angelaardolino.com for more information.