Cushing's Disease – which affects horses and ponies, and is also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Disfuntion (IPPD) – can be a difficult ailment to diagnose. While there are a few symptoms that are considered “typical” signs of the disease, the symptoms on show can in fact vary very significantly from animal to animal.
Cushing's Disease or PPID is the result of degeneration in part of an equine's brain, specifically the nerves of the hypothalamus. This leads to a shortage of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter which, through its role in the action of the pituitary gland, helps control the body's levels of a number of important hormones.
Historically, PPID has been diagnosed based on symptoms alone. However, as symptoms can be variable and similar to other conditions, it is now diagnosed through a relatively simple blood test.
One of the most common and also most widely recognised symptoms of Cushing's Disease is a heavy, curly coat which does not shed properly when the weather grows warm. However, there are a number of other symptoms which may show as well or instead, and these are often easy to mistake for other conditions or simply the effects of old age.
Some equines may lack energy as a result of Cushing's Disease, or may be losing weight even though their appetite remains normal or even increases. Sweating is also a common symptom, as is increased levels of drinking and urination.
Cushing's Disease can cause some animals to appear more pot-bellied, which is down to the muscles of the abdomen becoming weaker and being stretched. New or increased fat deposits can form in certain areas such as above the tail, around the eyes, and along the crest of the neck. The immune system may also be weakened, leaving the animal vulnerable to repeated infections, and wounds and seemingly minor problems such as ulcers may be slow to heal.
There is no cure for Cushing's Disease, but there are a number of ways to manage symptoms and improve the animal's quality of life. Prescribed medication from your vet (such as Prascend 1mg) is the most effective way of achieving this. For best results and the highest quality of life, however, this must be combined with proper supportive care.
As PPID tends to create a heavy coat that refuses to shed, regular clipping is necessary. Dental care is also very important, as a weakened immune system makes many horses and ponies with Cushing's Disease vulnerable to dental infections. It is also important to monitor the animal's weight, and if necessary to take steps to help manage weight and diet in general, such as the use of a specialist feed. Any illnesses or injuries should receive prompt medical attention, as a weakened immune system can make such problems persistent if they are not seen to promptly as well as increase the risk that they will grow worse or lead to additional complications.