Cushing's Disease And Infections

Cushing's disease (more correctly called pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) in horses) is a relatively common problem in older horses. It is caused by a pituitary adenoma (a benign tumour in the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain) that results in excessive production of various hormones. Horses with Cushing's (PPID) tend to have a long curly haircoat, excessive sweating, muscle loss and a pot-bellied appearance. They are also at increased risk of various infections, in part because the disease compromises their immune system. They are also at risk of certain infections because of things like the long hair coat and the increased risk of laminitis that are specifically associated with PPID.

How do you reduce the risk of infections in a horse with PPID (Cushing's)?

  • Do your best to control the primary problem: Cushing's disease. Medical therapy with certain drugs (e.g. pergolide) is available and can help reduce the impact of the disease and the risk of secondary infections.
  • Keep haircoats from getting too long. This is a cheap and easy fix - just use clippers!  Clipping long haircoats will help reduce the risk of secondary skin infections.
  • Ensure horses have shelter so that they can get out of the rain. A wet haircoat will predispose to skin infections.
  • Provide good hoof care on a regular basis to reduce the risk of foot abscesses.
  • Use good routine hygiene and infection control measures to reduce the risk of introducing or spreading infectious diseases on the farm.
  • Use a regular, monitored deworming program developed with your veterinarian.
  • Provide good dental care on a regular basis to reduce the risk of tooth root infections and other complications.

Photo: A pony exhibiting a long, curly haircoat (a condition also called hirsutism), which is the cardinal sign of PPID.  (Photo credit: M. Anderson, 2007)

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