QUESTION: A month ago, I bought a 20 plus year old gelding. He was very, very thin. Eats but doesn’t gain weight. I have dewormed him. But also all my other horses are shedding out this spring and he is far behind them on losing his winter hair. I think he has "Cushings Disease"? Do you think so?

Whoa, for just a minute. You have only had the horse for one month and may be overly worried about Cushings Disease. I will send you an article on Cushings Disease next.

Many older, senior equines do not shed out as quickly as younger horses.

(1) The main reason is they need their teeth floated by a Vet or qualified horse dentist. They simply are not getting adequate nutrition from their feed sources because they cannot chew their feed properly; thus the feed is not utilized by the gut as well as in a younger horse. So first get his teeth floated.

(2) Better feed!!! An older horse often requires different feed than a younger horse. With age, they require more palatable feed with different levels of nutrients, fat content, protein content, etc. etc. Very Important.

(3) Older horses do not run, buck and play as much as younger horses. By doing this, younger horses sweat up and this helps them shed out big time.

(4) Older horses do not roll on the ground as much as younger horses or even rub against trees, etc. as much as younger horses which is Mother Natures way of removing dead hair, sweat, etc. I often find with my Senior Citizen horses, I simply have to brush them a lot more in the spring to speed shedding.

The Cushings Disease article is next. Note it speaks of the first symptom of Cushings Disease as being an excessively LONG haired coat and often wavy. The couple of horses I have seen with Cushings Disease both had 4-inch long hair and slightly curled or waved. Both viewed by me in person were not thin but instead over-fat.

Thanks for writing and double thanks for buying an older horse. I simply love older equines and greatly appreciate someone who does too. Gayle


Equine Cushing's disease is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the production and regulation of hormones. While the tumor itself is benign, the cells within the tumor produce excess hormones, creating an imbalance in the horse's body. The cause of the tumor itself is not known.

Cushing's disease is most common in horses over 20 years old, although the youngest documented case was found in a seven-year-old. It is equally prevalent in both genders and is found more often in Morgans than in any other breed. Ponies may also have a slightly higher predisposition.

The most notable symptom of Cushing's disease is the growth of a long, shaggy, coat of hair. This irregularly long and sometimes wavy hair often persists throughout summer months and is a critical signal that a horse may have Cushing's disease.

Other symptoms are caused by the hormonal imbalance in the adrenal gland. These symptoms include excessive drinking and urination, Laminitis, a tendency for recurring infections in the hoof (foot abscesses), and a loss of muscle mass, especially along the topline and rump.

After identifying the visual symptoms, clinical testing can confirm the diagnosis.

"Generally, the overnight dexa-methasone suppression test is the best.

The dexamethasone suppression test, or DST, requires that the horse gives a small sample of blood, then be administered cortisone, and a follow-up blood sample be taken the next day. The blood samples are then compared to determine the horse's response to excess cortisone.

Once a horse has been diagnosed with Cushing's disease, there are treatments available that may improve the horses condition, and in some cases, even return it to normal health.

Pergolide or cyproheptadine are the two most commonly used drugs that have shown positive results in combating the effects of Cushing's disease. A University tracked and compared the progress of horses treated with pergolide, those treated with cyproheptadine, and those with no treatment at all. Returned to normal in some, but not all cases."

Treating a horse with Cushing's disease does, however, come with a cost. An average dose of pergolide for an average horse costs approximately $60 a month. It also requires owners to administer the drug daily and schedule regular appointments with their veterinarian for further follow-up blood work. If treatment is abandoned, symptoms can reappear as quickly as two or three weeks later.

Once on treatment, however, the prognosis is optimistic for horses with Cushing's disease.

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