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Feeding the Horse with Cushings Disease

When managing a horse with Cushings Disease, it is crucial to manage their diet. A Cushings horse is predisposed to laminitis and a compromised immune system. A proper feeding program can help reduce the chance of laminitis, and at the same time provide a diet that is high in antioxidants, such as selenium, vitamin E, and vitamin C, which aids the immune system. While some horses with Cushings require medication, most can be managed with nutrition and exercise.

Feeding a Cushings Horsehairy bay cushings horse

Since a Cushing horse is predisposed to laminitis it is very important to limit his NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) to 10-20% of his total diet. Hay and other fibrous feedstuffs should make up the majority of the horse's diet. The typical horse eats between 1% to 2% of his body weight in forage. So, the average 1,000-pound horse should be fed 15 to 20 pounds of hay per day. If your horse needs more energy to maintain a good body condition you should feed high-fat feeds or beet pulp. Avoid grains and feeds with molasses, which are high in NSC.

Choosing the Best Hay for Your Cushings Horse

When considering hay for your horse, it is important to recognize that some hays may contain high levels of NSC, depending on the species of grass and when and how it was harvested. In general, young plants are higher in sugar, whereas mid-bloom to mature grasses tend to be lower in sugar. Very mature plants typically have large amounts of indigestible fiber which can be hard for older horses with dentition problems to chew. Grass hays average between 7 and 18% NSC. Warm-season grasses, such as teff hay or Bermuda grass, tend to be lower in NSC. While cool-season grasses, such as orchard grass or timothy, are typically higher in NSC. Alfalfa averages 10-15% NSC, and oat hay is very high, averaging 22%. Alfalfa can be a good option for a horse with Cushings if they are a hard time holding their weight because it is more calorie-dense than grass hay. However, if your horse with Cushings is on the heavier side, it is best to steer away from alfalfa hay because of the excess protein can be converted into sugar in the liver.
cushing horse nose

If your Horse Needs More Calories than Just Hay

Some Cushings horses are more prone to being overweight, while others have a hard time holding a good body condition. If more calories are needed to maintain body condition, add feeds that are high in fat, such as flaxseed oil or extruded soybeans. Fat is very energy-dense while providing little easily digestible starch which raises insulin levels in a Cushings horse.

Providing Supplements to Optimize Immune Function

Cushings horses have suppressed immune systems and therefore are prone to reoccurring infections. So, it is very important to supplement them with a complete vitamin-mineral supplement that provides them with antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as selenium, vitamins E, C and A help combat attacks on the body. Feeding a supplement like Horse Guard, which is only fed at 2 ounces a day provides the body the needed vitamins and minerals while adding very little to the overall NSC levels of the diet. For the horse with Cushings that has a hard time maintaining weight consider supplementing with Super Weight Gain. Super Weight Gain contains a full dose of Horse Guard to help combat disease, a great prebiotic and probiotic package that helps your horse to get more out of his feed, and the base of cool energy from extruded soybeans to provide your horse energy from protein and fat. Supplementing with 100% flaxseed oil, such as FLOW, can also help your Cushings horse by reducing the insulin spikes in the bloodstream. By lowering these spikes, it helps reduce the chances of laminitis developing. Flaxseed oil also helps to reduce unwanted inflammation.

 

Overall nutritional plan for Your Cushings Horse

The goal is to build a diet for your horse that is low in NSC. Choose hay that best suits your horse's needs. For a horse that has a hard time maintaining weight, feed a warm-season grass/alfalfa hay mix. A heavier horse will do better on a warm-season grass hay. Choose a great vitamin-mineral supplement, like Horse Guard, that will provide them with crucial antioxidants to optimize immunity without adding a lot of NSC to the overall diet. Provide your horse an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement, like Flaxen Flow, to help with inflammation and insulin control. For the horse that won't maintain body condition on hay and a complete vitamin-mineral supplement and omega-3 supplementation alone, add concentrates that are high in fat and low in starch, such as extruded soybeans or oil, like Flaxen Glow or Flaxen Flow. While some Cushings horses need medication, many can be managed with diet alone. Be sure to consult your veterinarian when developing the best overall health program for your horse and determine if medication is necessary. Following these steps will help you to decrease the chances of your Cushings horse developing laminitis and assure your horse lives the most comfortable life possible.

15 Responses

Kim Coverdale

Kim Coverdale

August 03, 2023

My 27 year old quarter horse with Cushings has stopped eating her grain completely. She is on hay 7-24 with grain twice a day but I have just starter he on Hay Cubes soaked and she seems to be liking them. Over the past few years she will like her grain and just get turned off it. So this is my finally battle of giving her hay cubes and her medication. She loved her hay and grass but no grain, has anyone else had this problem. Poco is her name and she only has a roommate to keep her company.
Her room mate is a very easy keeper unlike Poco. Do you have any suggestions for me. Poco just started Perolige.

regards,

Kim

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Horse Guard :
Kim,

Thank you for the question. It is fairly common for horse’s appetites to go down with they start Pergolide. Their appetite usually returns to normal. However, if it doesn’t the dosage might need to be adjusted of temporarily reduced.

Also, if she really likes the soaked hay cubes you feed more of them and Super Weight Gain to provide her with her vitamin-mineral supplements. Let us know if we can answer any more questions.

Sincerely,

Kelsey Johnson Nonella, Ph.D., PAS

Equine Nutritionist, Horse Guard, Inc.<http://www.horseguard.com/>

Olivia

Olivia

June 02, 2023

Hi
I have a 21 year old gelding with Cushings that has always been super easy to keep weight on until now. He is a pasture horse but the grass is short, he has grass hay in a feeder and gets 3 pounds of alfalfa grain a day. We were told to double the feed, but he is not improving, is there anything we can use instead? Also wondering if you can ride a horse just as much with cushings? He is very active and participates in a lot of barrel races and 4-H shows.
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Horse Guard replied:
Hi Olivia,

Thank you for writing in. Sorry to hear that your gelding is losing weight. I would recommend starting him on Super Weight Gain, it is lower in sugar and starch. In addition, Super Weight Gain<https://www.horseguard.com/shop/store/horse-health/overall/super-weight-gain/> will provide:

A complete vitamin-mineral supplement to meet any deficiencies * A gut supplement with prebiotics, probiotics, and live yeast cultures to help stabilize the gut flora to help them get more out of the feed they are consuming * The cool-energy base of full-fat extruded soybeans that are high in protein and fat to help put on weight and build topline * Safe for horses with Cushings, IR, or other metabolic disorders

As far as continuing to ride him, yes as long as they are sound it is actually beneficial to ride a horse with horse with Cushing’s as it keeps the blood sugar down. Let us know if we can answer any other questions!

Kelsey Johnson Nonella, Ph.D., PAS

Equine Nutritionist, Horse Guard, Inc.<http://www.horseguard.com/>

Debbie Back

Debbie Back

April 04, 2023

I have a 24-year mare with Cushings that has really manifested itself this winter. She has lost a bunch of weight, very shaggy heavy winter coat that she is not shedding. She runs with a broodmare band of 8 and a stallion. She has not come in heat for several years now. She has free-range pasture and free unlimited amounts of hay. I am about to pull her from the broodmare band and put her in a pasture by herself. What would be the best supplement and feed to give her to lose the weight and shed the shaggy hair.
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Horse Guard replied:
Thank you for the question. I would recommend supplementing her with Super Weight Gain<https://www.horseguard.com/shop/store/horse-health/overall/super-weight-gain/> which will provide:

A complete vitamin-mineral supplement to meet any deficiencies * A gut supplement with prebiotics, probiotics, and live yeast cultures to help stabilize the gut flora to help them get more out of the feed they are consuming * The cool-energy base of full-fat extruded soybeans that are high in protein and fat to help put on weight and build topline

In the spring and fall be careful with her, to make sure she doesn’t get too much NSC from the grass when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Sugar is the lowest in grass between 3 AM and 10 AM. If it’s very overcast photosynthesis in the pasture is reduced, and therefore sensitive horses can graze a little longer. However, if temperatures drop below 40 °F at night, grasses don’t utilize the sugar they have stored to grow. Therefore, the sugar content of the grasses stays high. Here is an article I wrote about horses that are sensitive to sugars and grazing. https://horseguard.com/blogs/metabolic/if-and-when-to-let-your-metabolic-horse-graze

Let me know if I can answer any more questions.

Sincerely,

Kelsey Johnson Nonella, Ph.D., PAS

Equine Nutritionist, Horse Guard, Inc.<http://www.horseguard.com/>

Shelia Munsey

Shelia Munsey

March 24, 2023

I have a gilding with Cushings. He is eating a small amount of low starch feed. I soak his hay. He get one flake a day.and he is taking medicine for it. One tiny pills a day. Can he be let out to pick grass for about an hour and get exercise?
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Horse Guard replied:
It depends on the condition of the grass, the temperature, and the time of day. Growing pasture in the spring, or irrigated pastures that grow continuously throughout the summer, have higher sugar levels and raise the most concern to horses with metabolic issues. Dry pastures are typically lower in sugars since the grass is not actively growing. Keep in mind sugar builds up in grass with more exposure to sunlight and can take several hours for sugar levels to drop after the sun goes down. As long as the temperature didn’t reach 40 or below the night prior turn out from 3am to 10:00 am is safest. If you have really lush pastures, you could always try a grazing muzzle to try to lower grass intake for the hour.

Keep in mind every horse is different, some sugar sensitive horses may tolerate grazing better than others. It may be a good idea to gradually allow turn out up to an hour starting with 10-20 min the first few times and build up to one hour.

If you have any other questions feel free to reach out directly at horsenutrition@horseguar.com<mailto:horsenutrition@horseguar.com>

Sincerely,

Kelsey Johnson Nonella, Ph.D., PAS

Equine Nutritionist, Horse Guard, Inc.<http://www.horseguard.com/>

Kerrie Thundercloud

Kerrie Thundercloud

November 01, 2022

I am caring for a 25 yr old mare who has cushings and insulin resistantance. She is on Bermuda, legacy joint supplement, buteless pellets, flaxmeal, prascend. She is having a tough time walking in her back end. The owner stated she got this way when her NSC was to high but I have cautiously watched the levels. I was giving her beet pulp but she stopped eating it. What can I giver her or how can I change so she is not suffering from unable to walk?
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Horse Guard replied:
Sorry to hear about the mare you are caring for. It is sad to see them in so much pain. To replace the beet pulp you could feed her alfalfa or teff pellets. As they get older and when they are in a lot of pain they can definitely lose their appetite. Unfortunately, if her arthritis has progress so much that she is unable to walk very well, all that can help is previcox or bute. I would consult your veterinarian.

Sorry I couldn’t help more.

Sincerely,

Kelsey Johnson Nonella, Ph.D., PAS

Equine Nutritionist, Horse Guard, Inc.<http://www.horseguard.com/>

Caroline smith

Caroline smith

October 03, 2022

Hi I have a 23 Yr old mare that hadjust Been diagnosed Cushings disease after a short infection period of 2 week box rest please could you advise on what to feed due currently on drngie hi fi original ans veteran vitality with ad lib hay

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Horse Guard replied:
Hi Caroline, sorry to hear about your horse with Cushings. We recommend a complete multivitamin to ensure they are getting everything they need with out providing added sugar or starch. We suggest Horse Guard, Mega Dose, Trifecta. If she is of healthy weight, ad lib hay is great, especially if it’s low starch. We also would suggest adding Flaxen Flow to here diet as it boosts immunity and has been shown to help aid in glucose metabolism in metabolic horses, among many other benefits as it’s a natural anti-inflammatory. With the Multivitamin and Flaxen Flow, and hay, you should not need to feed Veteran Vitality. Let us know if you have any other questions!

Jackie Hare

Jackie Hare

August 02, 2022

I have a mustang mare that has cushings and is prone to chronic colic I fee Orchard Grass. She eats very fast and is never satisfied. She does not have a weight problem. How can I get her to relax when she is eating. She is fed 3 times a day.She colics because she eats so fast that the hay does not get digested right. She has a slow feed bag but she works so fast to pull the grass out I am afraid she is not chewing properly.. She also has ulcers Since she cant have hay with high sugar but still needs hay with vitamins and protein and should I feed her Teff? (dos Teff have the right nutrition Please recommend supplements and hay that is right for her. Thank You.

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Horse Guard replied:
Sorry to hear about your mare. This can be hard. I would recommend feeding her free choice Teff in the smallest size slow feeder haynet, such as this ultra slow hay feeder https://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail.html?pgguid=eb8300b7-b817-4bf1-9906-d5447ea0f8cb&itemguid=e327b05f-a0ef-4d73-859d-f77d2b5f8e5f&sfb=1&grp=7000&grpc=7600&grpsc=7610&sp=e&utm_content=43922&ccd=IFH003&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgOP-qc2o-QIVURx9Ch2qAwnVEAQYAiABEgKckPD_BwE

I personally feed all 20 of my horses free choice grass in slow feeder haynets. What I have observed when I get a new horse is that they will eat double for about three months and then they settle in and start eating with less urgency.

Teff is less calorically dense, she can eat more throughout the day. This will also help her ulcers because it will keep sometimes in her stomach for the acid to breakdown versus having nothing in her stomach and the acid breaking down her stomach lining.

I would recommend feeding Horse Guard with the Teff hay. Horse Guard will the vitamins and minerals that are typically lacking in hay, and with only a 2 ounce scoop there are very few added calories and sugars, making it great for a cushings mare like your own.

I hope this helps. Let me know if I can answer anymore questions.



margaret robertson

margaret robertson

August 01, 2022

I have a 26 year old gelding with cushings. Though hard to keep weight on he is good otherwise. I feed grass hay, and beet pulp with hemp seed, chia seeds, flax meal and oil. NO grass at all. Recently the feed stores can no longer provide beet pulp. Could you suggest a good senior feed to replace the beet pulp?
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Horse Guard replied:
I would recommend Super Weight Gain and Renew Gold. Super Weight Gain<https://www.horseguard.com/shop/store/horse-health/overall/super-weight-gain/> will provide:

A complete vitamin-mineral supplement to meet any deficiencies * A gut supplement with prebiotics, probiotics, and live yeast cultures to help stabilize the gut flora to help them get more out of the feed they are consuming * The cool-energy base of full-fat extruded soybeans that are high in protein and fat to help put on weight and build topline Let me know if I can answer any more questions.
Joanne Butler

Joanne Butler

December 21, 2021

I’ve been hearing that all ponies and horses even ones with Cushing’s and IR, should be fed unlimited hay.
The theory here is, they will maintain a normal body weight if you do. And it letting them go more than two or four hours with no hay would be very detrimental.
Please guide me in making the right decisions for these two ponies. I lay awake at night worrying if I’m doing the right thing by them.

Suzanne Thornton

Suzanne Thornton

October 29, 2021

Does my cushings mare who has lost weight still need her senior feed (legends senior carb care) if she takes Super Weight Gain?

Lydia Applewhite

Lydia Applewhite

September 09, 2021

If a Welsh pony has cushings ,at a mild level, Is it necessary that the field it is grazing has long grass in September? It is only out at night .

Dr. Kelsey Nonella

Dr. Kelsey Nonella

March 24, 2021

Thank you for the question. Oat hay is very high in NSC, so it is not a good choice for a pony with cushings. Using the Equi-Analytical database, the following general values for NSC are given*: oat hay, 22.1%; barley hay, 19.2%; alfalfa hay, 11.0%; bermudagrass hay, 13.2%; and grass hay, 12.0%.

I would recommend a teff hay, or other warm season grass hay.

I would also recommend switching his vitamin-mineral supplement out with Super Weight Gain. Super Weight Gain will provide:
• A complete vitamin-mineral supplement to meet any deficiencies
• A gut supplement with prebiotics, probiotics, and live yeast cultures to help stabilize the gut flora to help them get more out of the feed they are consuming
• The cool-energy base of full-fat extruded soybeans that are high in protein and fat to help put on weight and build topline
Let me know if I can answer anymore questions.

Sincerely,

Kelsey Johnson Nonella, Ph.D., PAS

Savanna

Savanna

March 24, 2021

Hi
My welsh pony has cushions and Im trying to keep weight on him .He has alfalfa hay and meadow hay and a hard feed of beet zero alfalfa and and vitamins and vegetable oil . And probiotics.
Could I swap the meadow hay for oaten hay to give him more fats . The meadow hay is quite sugary.
Thank you
Savanna

Dr. Kelsey Nonella

Dr. Kelsey Nonella

March 05, 2021

Debbie,

Thank you for the question. Yes, Super Weight Gain is safe for cushings and IR horses. It is high in fat and protein and low in starch which works great for horses with these conditions.

Let me know if I can answer anymore questions.
Sincerely,

Dr. Kelsey Nonella

Debbie Bailey

Debbie Bailey

February 24, 2021

My arabian mare has cushings and insulin resistantance.
She needs to add weight.
Can she have Horse Guard
Super Weight Gain Equine Supplement safely?

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