The Best Diet for a Horse with Cushings

You want your horse to be as healthy as possible. Cushings is a common disorder amongst horses that must be managed to ensure a happy and healthy life. This article will cover the best diet for a horse with Cushings.

Quick facts: Best Diet For Horse With Cushings

  • ✅ A high-fiber, low-starch diet is best for horses with Cushings (Equine Cushings UK).
  • ✅ A diet that contains balanced amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats is recommended for horses with Cushings (The Horse).
  • ✅ Hay should be the primary source of fiber in a horse with Cushings, with grain and concentrates being secondary sources of fiber (Equine Cushings UK).
  • ✅ Molasses can be added to feed as an energy source to help maintain weight in horses with Cushings (The Horse).
  • ✅ Selenium and Vitamin E supplements should be included in the diet of horses with Cushings (The Horse).

Overview of Cushings

Cushings is a disease of the endocrine system in horses which can lead to a range of health issues. Horses suffering from Cushings may exhibit signs such as increased drinking, increased urination, weight loss, thinning of the coat, and lethargy.

Changes in diet and nutrition are essential for the treatment and management of Cushings, so it’s important to understand the condition and how to provide the best support for your horse.

Symptoms of Cushings

Cushings Disease is a condition caused by an over-production of the hormone cortisol in horses. Signs of Cushings Disease can manifest in various ways and can be difficult to recognize. The most common symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating or trembling
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Weight loss
  • Long coat
  • Dull or brittle hair coat
  • Laminitis

Other symptoms may include a pot-bellied appearance, persistent infections (such as thrush or rain rot), and behavioral changes such as anxiousness or irritability.

Often times, horses with Cushings will also have excessive fat deposits around their necks and tails as well as along their crests.

Proper nutrition is critical for managing Cushing’s disease in horses; it should contain low levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) to reduce the risk of laminitis episodes associated with this condition. Foods high in antioxidants like fresh grasses may help reduce inflammation associated with the disease while helping to maintain healthy body weight.

Causes of Cushings

Cushings (or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) is a disease that affects horses, ponies and donkeys of all ages. It is caused by a hormonal imbalance in the body, which results in overproduction of cortisol. Cushings can cause a variety of clinical signs, including abnormal behavior and coat changes such as hair loss or development of small bumps (known as “cobblestones”).

The most common cause of Cushings is an overactive pituitary gland, which releases too much ACTH hormone into the bloodstream. This causes an increase in cortisol production which leads to the clinical signs associated with Cushings. Other causes can include:

  • Tumors on the pituitary gland
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Genetic abnormality

It is important to note that Cushings does not always have an identifiable cause.

Diet for a Horse with Cushings

Having a horse with Cushings disease can be challenging and as a horse owner, you want to do everything possible to help your horse. One of the things you can do is make sure your horse is on the right diet. A diet designed specifically for horses with Cushings will help to reduce the symptoms of the disease and keep your horse healthy.

Let’s explore what are the best diet options for a horse with Cushings:

Low sugar diet

A low sugar diet is a great way to help manage Cushing’s disease in horses. Sugar can cause an increase in insulin production and that can exacerbate some of the symptoms of Cushing’s disease. By limiting the amount of sugar consumed by a horse with Cushing’s, it can help prevent further complications from developing.

A low sugar diet may include hay and pasture feeding as well as grain-based diets with controlled levels of carbohydrates. You’ll want to avoid feeding grains that have a high carbohydrate content such as corn, oats, barley and wheat bran. Instead look for feed pellets such as grass/alfalfa mix or other cereals with lower carbohydrate levels to ensure they are getting enough nutrition while avoiding excess sugars.

It is also important to add minerals and vitamins to the horses diet to compensate for the reduction in carbohydrates they are consuming, while still providing adequate energy needs.

Low starch diet

A low starch diet is an important part of managing Cushing’s Disease in horses. Starch is a type of carbohydrate found in feed such as oats, corn, and barley. A horse with Cushing’s disease has an increased risk for developing laminitis due to the effects that high levels of starches have on the body. Therefore, a low-starch diet has been found to be beneficial for horses suffering from this condition.

Low starch diets are typically comprised of mostly fiber-rich sources such as hay, grasses, and legumes (such as alfalfa). To avoid excessive sugar intake, grains should be avoided or fed in very limited amounts. Other options include hay cubes or pellets made from processed legumes and grasses which can provide nutrition without extra sugars or starches.

High fiber diet

A high fiber diet is a recommended dietary approach for horses with Cushing’s syndrome. This diet should include high amounts of hay, grass or pasture, and a low amount of grain-based feeds. A large part of the horse’s diet should also be fresh vegetables and fruits. Fibers in the form of grains, oats, and grains are great sources of carbohydrates and can provide the horse with much needed energy when they do not have access to grass or hay. However, these ingredients should be given in addition to the Hay/Grass or Pasture. It is important to note that fiber sources such as corn hulls provide minimal nutrition for a horse with Cushing’s disease and is not an ideal addition to their diet.

Offer your horse small frequent meals throughout the day as opposed to one large meal. A variety of other high fiber ingredients can be added such as psyllium husk, beet pulp, alfalfa cubes, rye bran, pearled barley and oat bran which will help increase their nutrient absorption while keeping them fuller longer.

Feeding Tips

When it comes to caring for a horse with Cushings it is important to pay special attention to its diet. A well balanced diet is essential to ensure that the horse is receiving adequate nutrition and is maintaining a healthy weight.

Here are some dietary tips to keep in mind when feeding a horse with Cushings:

  • Provide high-fiber feed to help maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid feeding high-sugar and high-starch foods.
  • Provide access to fresh, clean water at all times.
  • Monitor the horse’s appetite and adjust the diet accordingly.
  • Provide regular exercise to help maintain a healthy weight.

Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day

Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day is an important part of managing a horse with Cushings disease. Horses with Cushings disease tend to consume more carbohydrates than other horses, so providing small meals balanced with fat and protein every two to three hours helps reduce the risk of laminitis and colic.

The hay should be of good quality, easily digested, and low in sugars and starches. If possible, feed hay that has been tested for sugar content, so you know the exact amount of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) it contains. For additional nutrients that are often limited in hay, a high-quality ration-balancer supplement can provide omega fats and added vitamins such as biotin.

For extra energy needs, make sure to incorporate fat sources such as vegetable oil or stabilized rice bran into your horse’s diet; this helps to balance blood sugar levels while providing an energy boost.

Avoiding high sugar treats and snacks

Horses with Cushings need to be mindful of the type of treats and snacks they eat. This is because high-sugar treats can cause their bodies to enter a state of metabolic crisis, which can make their symptoms worse. It is important to avoid giving your horse foods that are particularly high in sugars, such as candy, cakes, and pastries.

Instead, opt for treats that are low in sugar but still provide good nutrition. These may include:

  • Plain hay cubes
  • Grain mixes with no added sugars or sweeteners
  • Unsweetened apple slices and carrots
  • Other fruits and vegetables

Giving your horse a variety of healthy snacks will help keep them happy without aggravating their Cushings symptoms.

Providing plenty of fresh, clean water

Clean water is essential to any horse’s diet, but it takes on even more importance when caring for a horse with Cushing’s Disease. Horses with Cushing’s Disease are at a greater risk of becoming dehydrated, so providing plenty of fresh, clean water is key. A good rule of thumb is to provide two gallons of clean water per day per 1,000 pounds body weight.

It is also important to ensure that the water you provide your horse with Cushing’s Disease is free from contaminants like mold, parasites or bacteria that can make your horse sick. Additionally, be sure to check your horse’s drinking habits every day and take extra care to monitor younger horses or horses in hot climates who may drink more than usual due to increased external temperatures.

Lastly, try providing multiple sources of water both inside and outside the stall if available as this can encourage drinking more frequently throughout the day:

  • Provide two gallons of clean water per day per 1,000 pounds body weight.
  • Ensure the water is free from contaminants like mold, parasites or bacteria.
  • Monitor drinking habits, especially in young horses or horses in hot climates.
  • Provide multiple sources of water both inside and outside the stall.

Supplements and Medications

For an overweight horse with cushings, it is essential that the diet is modified appropriately to provide optimal nutrition. The best way to achieve this is to add supplements and/or medications to the diet. Some of the common supplements and medications used in horses with cushings include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and trilostane.

Let’s go over the pros and cons of these supplements and medications:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Magnesium
  • Trilostane

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Vitamin and mineral supplements are key components of a Cushing’s horse’s diet. Vitamins and minerals help boost the immune system, aid in digestion, support healthy hormone functioning, and maintain proper muscle and tissue performance. Vitamin E supports healthy blood vessel walls, which is especially important for older horses with Cushing’s. Calcium helps strengthen bones, while zinc helps with hoof growth and muscle regeneration.

Other vitamins and minerals such as thiamin (B-vitamin), magnesium chloride, chromium picolinate, choline chloride, copper sulfate, manganese sulfate, cobalt sulfate and selenium yeast may also benefit horses with Cushing’s disease.

It is important to select supplements specifically formulated for horses with Cushing’s disease. Many manufactured supplements contain an excessive amount of carbohydrates which can lead to weight gain in these already overweight horses. Speak to your veterinarian or nutritionist about which supplement brands are best for your horse’s individual needs.

Anti-inflammatory medications

Anti-inflammatory medications are an important part of caring for a horse with Cushing’s Disease. These medications work to relieve the inflammation and associated pain caused by Cushing’s. Commonly used anti-inflammatories include phenylbutazone, triamcinolone acetonide, flunixin meglumine, chondroitin sulfate, and glucosamine. It is important to discuss any medication you may be considering with your veterinarian before administering it to your horse.

These medications can be beneficial in reducing pain and inflammation associated with Cushing’s but they can also have some potential side effects such as gastrointestinal upset or ulcers, kidney damage, or even decreased appetite or performance. It is important to weigh the benefits and risks of these medications before administering them to your horse with Cushing’s Disease. Additionally, many supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin E may help reduce inflammation without having the risk of side effects associated with anti-inflammatory medications.

Herbal supplements

Herbal supplements are a type of dietary supplement derived from plant sources, such as herbs, roots, leaves, and flowers. Common herbal supplements include ginkgo biloba, echinacea, ginger root extract and feverfew. Unlike prescription medications or traditional feed additives, they are generally not clinically tested or approved by any government agency. However, they can be useful in helping to improve the health of horses with Cushings Disease.

Herbal supplements can help support the horse’s nervous system and provide relief from the symptoms associated with Cushing’s Disease. They may be used in combination with other treatments for Cushings Disease or as an adjunct therapy that helps improve the horse’s overall health. Some common herbal supplements for treating Cushings include:

  • Milk thistle extract (Silybum marianum)
  • Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)
  • Devil’s claw root powder (Harpagophyti radix)
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
  • Guggul gum resin (Commiphora mukul)
  • Hawthorn berry extract (Crataegus laevigata)


Monitoring your horse’s diet is an essential part of managing Cushings disease. Making sure your horse is getting the right combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals is critical for their health. Additionally, monitoring your horse’s diet helps you to identify any changes in their health that may indicate that the diet should be adjusted.

In this article, we will discuss the best diet for a horse with Cushings and the importance of monitoring your horse’s diet.

Regular veterinary check-ups

Regular veterinary check-ups are critical for horse owners managing a horse with Cushings Disease. It is important to monitor the horse’s health and make sure that the disease is not progressing. During these veterinary visits, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, collect bloodwork for hormone levels, and assess your horse’s overall health. Depending on the results of your test, your veterinarian may recommend additional testing or treatments.

In addition to regular check-ups, you should also take note of any changes in your horse’s behavior or appetite. Make sure to report any unusual changes to your vet as this can provide valuable insight into the progression of the disease. Additionally, monitoring

  • daily weight gains,
  • urine tests,
  • regular exercise

are all important components of managing Cushings Disease in horses. With proper management and monitoring, you can ensure that your horse remains healthy despite its condition.

Regular blood tests

Regular blood tests are an important part of monitoring the disease-state of a horse with Cushing’s Syndrome. Blood tests can help to determine if the horse is responding to treatment in a positive manner and can also detect any relapses in the condition. These tests measure certain hormone levels and may include tests for cortisol, insulin, and thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH).

Additionally, regular physical examinations of the horse should be conducted as part of their monitoring plan. If a change in behavior is noted (e.g., becoming easily distressed or difficulty eating) or if certain physical characteristics such as haircoat changes are observed by the owner/ keeper, immediate veterinary advice should be sought.

These observations can then be coupled with the results from blood tests to more accurately assess if any changes in diet or treatment need to be implemented.

Monitoring the horse’s energy levels and weight

Monitoring the energy levels and weight of a horse with Cushing’s is an important part of its diet management. The horse should be weighed regularly to ensure that its body weight does not exceed its ideal weight or the maximum recommended for its breed. If the horse has gained too much weight, changes to its diet may need to be made.

To keep track of the horse’s energy levels, it can also be monitored after a ride or during exercise. Weight management and energy level assessments can help determine whether changes in nutritional intake are necessary. A veterinarian should also monitor any treatments that are prescribed as part of an overall treatment plan for Cushing’s disease in horses.

FAQs about: Best Diet For Horse With Cushings

Q: What is the best diet for a horse with Cushings?

A: The best diet for a horse with Cushings should include a low-sugar, low-starch feed, hay and plenty of fresh, clean water. It should also be high in fiber and low in calories. Additionally, it is important to feed small meals throughout the day, rather than one large meal, to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Q: Are there any supplements that can help a horse with Cushings?

A: Yes, there are supplements that can help a horse with Cushings. Omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and vitamin E can all help improve the health of a horse with Cushings. Additionally, herbs such as milk thistle can help reduce the symptoms of Cushings.

Q: How often should a horse with Cushings be exercised?

A: A horse with Cushings should be exercised at a moderate level on a regular basis. This can include light riding or other forms of exercise such as walking or light trotting. It is important to ensure that the horse is not over-exercised, as this can lead to complications and further health issues.

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