Are Horses Diabetes

Paul Gonzalez
• Tuesday, 20 October, 2020
• 9 min read

“Insulin resistance” is sometimes called “preaching's” because it was felt that insulin-resistant horses are in the early stages of Cushing's disease. You may also hear it called “equine metabolic syndrome,” because there are similarities with human insulin-resistant conditions.

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To compensate for this, the pancreas has to put out an abnormally large amount of insulin to get the job done. If the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, the blood sugar rises abnormally high.

This gave them a survival advantage in the wild because they would gain weight very easily when food was available and use that fat reserve to sustain themselves when there was less to eat. Some people are the same way, and this tendency for easy weight gain was dubbed “the thrifty gene” by some human researchers.

No genetic work has been done in horses yet, but evidence is accumulating that the easy keeper breeds are more likely to be insulin resistant. Cushing's disease, a condition common in older horses, occurs when a tumor has grown in the pituitary gland in the brain and puts out large amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

ACTH in turn makes the adrenal gland secrete the hormone cortisol. Not all horses with Cushing's disease are insulin resistant, at least initially, but that condition does put them at high risk.

The extra weight puts unnecessary stress on your horse's back, joints and heart. This combined with a tendency for blood vessels to spasm easily is thought to be why these horses are more prone to laminates.

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In the advanced stages of IR, the horse actually begins to lose weight and muscle mass. Don't give your horse any grain on the day of testing, but grass hay is OK. A chemistry screen with glucose and triglycerides should be checked at the same time.

Treatment A variety of drugs are available for people with insulin resistance, but none come even close to having the effectiveness of exercise and diet control. Those drugs haven't been tested in horses, but the good news is that exercise and diet also work extremely well.

The sugar level in live grasses varies widely and even over the space of a day's time. Once the horse is back to a normal weight and insulin level, he may be able to tolerate a little grazing during the low- risk months of July and August, but you will have to watch very carefully for any signs of foot soreness, weight gain or changes in the neck crest.

By making sure the horse has formal exercise every day, you decrease the need for insulin. Controlling the diet is the key to getting the horse to a normal weight and avoiding or treating laminates.

The cornerstone of the diet is a grass hay with low sugar and starch content. Alfalfa is lower in sugar and starch than many grass hays, but some horses are sensitive to it for unclear reasons and may develop laminates.

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The good news is that once you have located a low NSC hay, the horse can be fed as much as 2% of his body weight/day (20 lbs./day for a 1,000 lb. Ideally, you want a hay with an NSC (Nonstructural Carbohydrate), which is the total of sugar and starch combined, less than 10%.

Most hay-testing services don't provide NSC testing, but you can get it done by sending your sample to either Litchfield Laboratories, www.litchlab.com, or Equi-Analytical, www.equi-analytical.com. At this point, hay can usually be given free choice as long as the horse is being exercised regularly.

Horses confined to small areas and not being worked (for example, if they are recovering from laminates) may still need to have the hay restricted to an amount that doesn't cause them to gain weight. Another staple in the IR horse's diet is plain beet pulp, no molasses added.

What to Expect After you institute the necessary changes to the horse's diet and lifestyle, improvements usually occur rapidly. On a low NSC diet, the horse can eat more and still lose weight down to a healthy level.

The pain of active laminates begins to let up within a very short period of time, days at the most. Everyone enjoys spoiling and treating their horse a bit, but it's just not worth it if these habits are making him sick.

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I’ve even heard of friends dogs and cats having diabetes, and having to take insulin shots for it. Yes, horses can experience the characteristics of diabetes, but the terminology and treatments are a little different for equines than they are for people or other animals.

In this article, I’m going to be discussing terminology, symptoms, reasons for, and treatments of diabetes in horses. But, recent studies and research have shown that this is not the case and that horses can show diabetic symptoms outside their connection with Cushing’s disease.

Additionally, symptoms of Insulin Resistance include fatty deposits or gatherings on certain parts of your horse’s body. Lastly, if your horse has a medical history of easily getting laminates, there is a higher likelihood that he will contract Insulin Resistance.

This is always something you will want to discuss with your vet, as there may be some preventative measures to take in your horses situation. Not much research has been done on the genetics of Insulin Resistance in horses, or at least, not the same quantity that has been done on diabetes in humans.

Right now, it is believed that overfeeding your horse rich foods can sometimes cause Insulin Resistance. These include breeds like draft crosses, Quarter Horses, and even Appaloosas.

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One way you can help your horse combat Insulin Resistance is exercise. Either way, turnout allows your horse the ability to move around, which is a vital form of exercise.

Another way you can help your horse overcome Insulin Resistance is by changing what and how he eats. Some horses can live solely on forage like hay or grass.

If your horse is only on grass and hay, but he’s still having trouble losing weight, try a grazing muzzle when he goes outside for turnout. Changing a horse’s diet involves a lot of trial and error.

And, it’s important to communicate your changes to your vet and your barn owner or manager. When horses are mentally stressed out, it can have physical effects on their bodies, the same way it can with people.

As soon as you expose him back into a group of horses (whether they’re his friends or not), he will immediately calm down. These can help a horse calm down mentally, which in turn has positive impacts on their physical health.

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(Source: www.horsejournals.com)

This guide highlights the symptoms that indicate a case of equine diabetes, and what to do if a horse contracts the issue. Just like in humans, equine diabetes is a result of the horse being resistant to insulin.

It’s insulin in the body that allows blood cells to carry and deliver glucose, which is sugar used for energy. When a horse has diabetes, they are unable to transport or provide sufficient insulin to the working muscles in the body.

Diabetes can cause a horse to be overweight, which is a danger to their overall health as additional stress is placed upon their skeletal system and vital organs. It can also lead to spasms inside the blood vessels which contributes to the onset of Laminates.

Spotting the clues prematurely is essential to prevent more serious developments in your horse. After you’ve bought a horse, you will soon learn how much is normal for the animal to drink and urinate.

It is important that you organize regular general check ups for your horse so that you can consistently keep tabs on their overall health. This is the most efficient way to prevent any nasty surprises due to a lack of care.

diabetes horses symptoms
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A review of veterinary literature over the last 50 years shows only a few cases of equine diabetes. The earlier condition leading to Type II Diabetes is called insulin resistance.

Insulin is released in response to an increase in glucose levels in the blood following a meal containing sugars or starches. Diagnostic testing is now being done to identify these horses suspected of being in the early stage of insulin resistance.

This stage of disease is being called Impaired Glucose Tolerance (It) and is the condition seen in most horses. What is important to the horse and its owner is that at some point the body fails in its need to regulate and maintain glucose metabolism, use and storage.

Horses suffering from impaired glucose tolerance show a variety of clinical signs. Typically, these are overweight horses that maintain their weight despite reduced feeding on the part of their owners.

It is interesting to note that some researchers feel that this fat storage ability may have helped these diabetes -prone horses to be evolutionarily selected. They need exercise to control their weight and metabolism but owners report that it is often difficult to get these horses to work.

horses diabetes horse health
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Skin conditions are common in these horses and simple cases of rain rot or pasture scald seem to be more serious and to take longer to resolve. Complications due to recurrent laminates or founder, however, seem to be the single biggest problem in insulin-resistant horses.

Foot disease is the single most common complication leading to hospitalization in Type II diabetic humans. The disease causes complications with peripheral blood flow and inflammation in the tissues of the toes.

Polling of the Veterinary School at the University of Queensland in Australia has been doing research on laminates that strongly suggests that this disease of horses is linked to altered glucose metabolism in the cells of the sensitive laminae in the hoof. Damage to these particular areas leads to disruption of the structure of the foot and to the characteristic “rotation” that characterizes this disease.

These horses should be fed low grain diets to reduce the amount of starch and sugar. Additional energy, if needed, can be added in the form of beet pulp or rice bran.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation is crucial with attention to levels of chromium, zinc and magnesium, as these elements have been shown to affect insulin function and glucose metabolism. These simple steps can improve glucose regulation and slow the development of insulin resistance.

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