CUSHING'S DISEASE: A Problem for Older Horses
By Donice Muccio / January 1, 2016
Photo Credits: Melissa Johnson
Caring for the aged horse can be very challenging, and that's putting it mildly. It is also an honor and privilege to give the aged horse the best life possible; in return your beautiful loyal companion can still give you many years of happiness.
There are so many conditions that impact the older horse that may seem like the process of aging. It is important to keep a keen eye on your horse as it ages. If you trust your barn management to bring even subtle things to your attention that you may not notice, then by all means take their advice seriously and consult your vet.
Vogue is 26 years old and has Cushing's disease that results from a tumor on the pituitary gland. Fortunately his condition was caught early and he is doing very well. Some symptoms of Cushing's may just appear as normal aging. Other symptoms are more obvious. One common symptom is the horse grows a very thick and/or wavy coat, even in the hot summer months, that seems to grow back within weeks after clipping. The horse may also exhibit excessive drinking and urination, fat pockets in its hindquarters, a crested neck that you notice although it may have taken time to develop, or a potbelly.
What is important is that you examine your horse daily and consult with your vet about any of your concerns. If Cushing's is caught early, your horse can live a very productive life if treated with medications and dietary changes, as the Cushing's horse is prone to more serious ailments, in particular and most critical, laminitis and abscesses.
If your older horse seems "off," have your vet examine the horse. Your vet may want to take blood to check for anemia or an infection. What is important is that you don't ignore your horse's symptoms, regardless of how minor the symptoms seem. It is not fair to assume that any decline is just part of the aging process. The horses still need to be de-wormed, vaccinated, and their teeth checked on a regular basis -- just as they were in their younger and prime years. Please don't assume because they are homebound that they are not prone to fatal equine diseases.
Our horses rely on us as their dedicated caretakers until their quality of life has declined to the extent of helping them quietly go; absolutely the most difficult decision to make. As we fight with them through their ailments, and with conscientious care, their best years can be well into their old age. I am convinced they fight when we fight with love and understanding. Your aged horse, if able, still probably loves having a job with light steady work. Just like humans as we age -- if you don't use it you lose it. So...enjoy and appreciate the trust and wisdom your beloved equine friend shares with you.
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