Cushing's disease

Veterinary advice should be sought before applying any treatment or vaccine.

Cushing's Disease

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction

Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), commonly known as Cushing's disease, is one of the most common endocrine disorders in horses and ponies. It most commonly affects older horses (with the average horse age being approximately 20 years of age), however it has been reported in horses as young as seven years old. Overall, the majority (over 85%) of horses diagnosed with PPID are older than 15 years of age. PPID is caused by an enlargement of a portion of the pituitary gland (an important gland that is located at the base of the horse's brain).

Clinical signs

Horses with PPID typically are older horses that present with pasture-associated or seasonal laminitis, hair coat abnormalities (such as delayed, incomplete, curling of, excessive growth, or lack of hair coat shedding upon the warmer months of the year), and generalized muscle wasting/weight loss. Affected horses often have a history of impaired or delayed healing of wounds, which is a result of immune suppression associated with the disease. They are prone to recurring abscesses, tooth infections, sinusitis, and higher intestinal parasite loads than normal horses. Upon progression of the disease, horses may also have muscle atrophy along their back and develop a 'potbellied' appearance.

  • Chronic Laminitis: Horses with PPID have an increased risk of developing laminitis, especially during the spring when turned out to pasture with lush grass.
  • Insulin resistance: Horses with PPID are often prone to developing insulin resistance, meaning that glucose is not absorbed from the bloodstream into the body's cells as it should, resulting in high levels of glucose in the blood.
  • High parasite load: Horses with PPID are shown to have higher intestinal parasite loads than normal horses.
  • Neurological signs: As the pituitary gland continues to grow, it can often exert pressure to other portions of the horse's brain, which can on rare occasion cause the onset of neurological signs.
PPID Vs Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)
PPID and EMS are both very common endocrine disorders, affecting up to 30% of certain breeds of horses and ponies. However, they are very distinct diseases which require different approaches with respect to treatment. PPID usually affects older horses with excessive hair coats in contrast to EMS which most often affects younger-to-middle-aged animals with normal hair coats.

Age of onset:Middle aged to older; 85% are older than 15 years of ageCan occur at any age
Cause:Increased activity of the anterior pituitary gland which results in overproduction of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and other related hormones.An adipose-derived endocrinopathy, in which abnormal or excessive adipose tissue produces a hormonal and/or inflammatory environment that alters insulin responses to feeding and the activity of insulin in peripheral tissues.
Hair coat:Long, curly haircoatNormal haircoat
Shedding pattern:Delayed, incomplete or lack of haircoat sheddingNormal shedding pattern
Weight status:Muscle wasting and weight lossObese easykeeper, with obvious fat deposits in the crest of the neck and tail-head.
History:Episodes of pasture-associated or seasonal (spring/autumn) laminitisEpisodes of pasture-associated or seasonal (spring/autumn) laminitis. May also be insidious, awith abnormal growth rings on hooves or chronic laminitis changes observed in radiographs without any obvious clinical signs.
Predisposed breeds:Ponies, MorgansPonies, Morgans, Arabians, Saddlebreds, Quarter horses, Tennessee Walking Horses, Paso Finos
Fat distribution:Abnormal, 'regional adiposity'; in which fat deposits collect in the crest of the neck, prepuce, supraorbital fossae, tail head, and focal deposits in flanks.Abnormal, 'regional adiposity'; in which fat deposits collect in the crest of the neck, prepuce, supraorbital fossae, tail head, and focal deposits in flanks.
Immunity changes:Decreased w/ delayed healing of wounds. Prone to recurring sole abscesses, corneal ulceration, intestinal parasites, rain rot episodes, dermatophilosis, tooth root abscesses, etc. No apparent changes in immunity or healing
Water intake/urination:Excessive water drinking and urinationNo changes in water consumption or urination
PPID and EMS share several similarities. Both are endocrine disorders. Both are associated with horses that have a history of acute or chronic laminitis, especially seasonal or pasture-associated. The onset of laminitis in both disorders has been related to underlying insulin dysregulation. On rare occasions, EMS and PPID can occur concurrently in horses. Hormonal testing is required to properly diagnosis both EMS and PPID.


Long, wavy/curly coat that doesn't shed in the spring
Excessive drinking and urinating
Recurrent infections (sole abscesses, tooth root infections, sinusitis, etc.)
Sweats more easily than other horses
Loss of muscle mass
Pot-bellied appearance
Loss of reproductive cycle/infertility in mares
Bulging eyes
Weight loss despite good appetite


  • History - Chronic laminitis, recurring infections
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) concentration - Considered to be the best commercially available screening test for PPID
  • Dexamethasone suppression test (DST)
  • Domperidone testing
  • Resting insulin concentration
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Urinalysis



Pergolide mesylateThe same medication used in humans to treat people with Parkinson's disease. Administered orally in pill form for aid in reducing symptoms.
CyproheptadineConsidered not to be as effective as pergolide at controlling symptoms.
Diet modificationSwitching to a low soluble carbohydrate, high protein feed.
Regular body clipping
Frequent fecal worm egg counts performed
Restricted access to lush pastures and sweet feed


Scientific Research

General Overviews

Clinical Trials

  • excessive hair growth icon
  • Abnormal haircoat icon
  • Crusty neck icon

Age Range

PPID predominately affects older horses over the age of 15, however it has also occurred in horses as young as 7.