Cushing’s disease

Does anyone have experience managing a Cushing’s Horse? I would appreciate any input.

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Bornhorsey - so sorry to hear you have a horse with Cushings. It can be a challenge to treat but can be done successfully. I have had two horses with Cushings, one diagnosed at age 20 and the other at age 17. Presenting symptoms varied with both, neither of which had the typical long haircoat. Both verified with bloodwork which I feel is very important. That being said, both were treated with Pergolide with varying responses. In the end, the older horse couldn’t be managed after 4 years of the meds. and was put down. The second horse also developed chronic laminitis and was very uncomfortable 24/7. I hate this disease. There is good information out there but the first should come from working with your veterinarian .


Thank you for your informative reply. My mare is 23. My vet is coming out to see her tomorrow, and will draw blood for testing. The symptoms that I’ve seen indicate Cushing’s to me, but I am holding out a small hope that it isn’t. I cannot afford expensive medications, but if necessary, I will certainly take her off the grain mix she currently eats. I have read that carbohydrates are the enemy, and the grain that she is on has molasses in it. She has been with me for more than 20 years; I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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Barnhorsey, depending upon the age of your horse when you received the diagnosis, you can expect probably ten years more life if the animal receives effective medication. The “age at diagnosis” might actually be off a year or more, because Cushings tends to come on slowly, and your animal may have actually had the disease before you were aware of it.

The two biggest problems I experienced with Cushings were (1) some horses absolutely will not eat oral Pergolide, and no matter how attractively you “package” it, i.e. in horse muffins or inside a tasty carrot or crushed and sprinkled on sweetfeed or whatnot, they figure out pretty quick that you are trying to sneak it to them. If this occurs with your horse, you have two options: first, there is a liquid form of Pergolide available which some horses that won’t eat the pills are happy with. Second, you can switch off of Pergolide and try using chaste berry oil, which is equally as effective as Pergolide (and costs just as much). There is no reason to go to chaste berry oil because Pergolide is a “chemical”: because indeed, there is not one thing that we or horses eat that is NOT a chemical. Everything we ingest also has “side effects”, i.e. sometimes good side effects and sometimes undesirable ones. However, if you can’t get your horse to eat Pergolide, I guarantee he’ll eat the chaste berry oil as it is pretty palatable. So go to your veterinarian and obtain the prescription for Pergolide and give that a serious trial, at least six months of figuring out how to incorporate it into the horse’s daily life, and only go to chaste berry oil as a second alternative.

The second problem that Cushing’s causes is a higher tendency toward episodes of laminitis. If your horse becomes laminitic, it will obviously prevent you from having the enjoyment of riding him – and since that’s undoubtedly why you bought the horse, I would consider it a high priority to keep him sound. This will require general dietary management, i.e. a low sugar, low-carbo regimen. The mainstay of his diet should be soaked hay – and I mean seriously soak it, not just sprinkle it or dip it. The hay needs to be underwater for at least one-half hour and in freezing weather, longer than that, the object being to reduce the sugars in the hay by at least 35%. The water in which hay has been soaking will turn Coca-cola brown as the sugars leach out. Dump the water every day because unless you do that, the soaking will be ineffective. If your horse has been getting nice well-grown grass hay or alfalfa, he’s going to hate you for this because it makes his dinner a lot less tasty but I promise he’ll get used to it and eat it if that’s all he’s presented with to chew on.

Because soaking the hay lowers the vitamin B content and also the content of all other vitamins and trace minerals that are soluble in water, you will also want to supplement with a cup or two per day of a good bagged low-carb feed. Check the bag ingredients to make sure that sugar or molasses is not used as a “binder”, and that it presents a full profile of vitamin content. My preference is for pelleted hay, but if beet pulp is an ingredient that’s OK too. I live in California and the convenient brand is LMF low-carb in the lime-green bag – but I believe this product is sold in many Western states.

As to shoeing, you want to have the support of your vet-farrier team. If the horse seems kind of dead on his feet, i.e. with less spring in his step than usual, he’s probably sore. Confer with your vet-farrier team to determine whether he might benefit from pads, or, alternatively, whether boots with foam liners might be appropriate.

Good luck, don’t get discouraged, and keep riding the horse; the exercise and the time with you are both just as important as the medications and special diet. – Dr. Deb Bennett


Dr Bennet: thank you so much for your input. I respect and value your expertise tremendously. I will be making a lot of management changes!

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The happy hoof has an amazing podcast, and info on Cushing. Try FB or their web page!

Thank you! I need all the info I can get :grin:

Bornhorsey, my mare was diagnosed at age 24 shortly after moving her from Virginia to Texas. I started her on Pergolide from a compounding pharmacy and then shifted to Prascend when that became available. She was on a low dose of both medications and she never developed laminitis. I body clipped her once in the spring each year and her hair coat never got really long. She was rideable until age 25 or 26, but it was arthritis that retired her and not Cushings. I think one thing working for us was the shift from the Orchard grass and Bluegrass of her Virginia pasture to the Bermuda grass of her Texas pasture. I never took her off pasture. She lived until age 30 and was an active member of my little herd until the day she died. My mare was with me for 24 years so I know how you feel.

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Thanks for sharing your story. My mare has been positively diagnosed now, and I am starting her on Prascend. Fingers crossed!


Update: thank you all for your supportive replies. My mare is munching her pergolide along with her Triple Crown senior, and is doing very well: she has put back her weight, and I now need to make sure she doesn’t put on too much! My vet has said I can still ride her, but obviously, I want to be extremely cautious. I have no ambitious goals, but I want to do some light arena riding. 2-3 hours a week at most probably. I enjoy focusing on correctness and precision. I am considering a pair of Easyboot Trail boots for her to add some shock absorption when I ride. She is barefoot, and the arena is fairly hard. Any experience with these boots? Thanks!

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Hi, Pixie,

I can’t seem to find the Happy Hoof in podcasts or in Facebook. Can you help?


I went there too, it wasn’t available! I’m so sorry!