Horse Health Q&A: Equine Cushing's Disease

Equine Cushing's Disease - Signs, Symptoms & Natural Treatments
Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), or what is commonly known as Equine Cushing’s Disease, is due to the development of a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. The growth of this tumor subsequently disturbs the delicate balance which exists between the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, thyroid and the adrenal cortex. It is the disruption of this mechanism that leads to the "presenting symptoms" we all associate with Cushing's disease.

The visual symptoms of Cushing’s seem to come on more often in the fall, along with what is known as the cortisol release:

  • Fat pockets and cresty necks develop
  • Horses start growing heavier and longer winter coats than normal, which occurs as we have fewer daylight hours and the evenings begin to get cooler.
There is also a cortisol release in the Spring - which may also be related to the horses hanging on to their winter coats and not shedding like the rest of the horses - but is also more likely to bring on a bout of laminitis too, signaling to owners that their horses are starting to becoming a “Cushing’s Horse.”
Earth Song Ranch natural & herbal products are featured on Fox's Horse Talk Show with Louisa Barton
Listen NowLouisa Barton, Host of Fox's The Horse Talk Show talks about her horse Sunny's recovery from Cushings Disease. His ACTH levels fell from 293 to 27 using our Natural Cushing's Treatment & Diet recommendations.  Listen Now: Louisa Barton interviews Jessica Lynn on Why the Fall is More of a Concern for Cushings & Pre-Fall Prevention Tips.

Are Certain Horses More Susceptible to Developing Cushing's Disease?

Cushing's disease is most common in horses over 20 years old, although the youngest documented cases have been found in some as early as five to seven-years old.

It is equally prevalent in both genders and has been found slightly more often in Morgans than in any other breed. Ponies and minis may also have a slightly higher predisposition.

What Are Some of the Symptoms of a Cushing’s Horse?

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 either Cushing's or is in the Pre-Cushing’s phase of the disease.

Other symptoms of Cushing's Disease in Horses:

  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Non-specific laminitis
  • A tendency for recurring infections in the hoof (foot abscesses)
  • Loss of muscle mass, especially along the topline and rump
  • Depression and/or lack of energy
  • Fatty deposits, including cresty neck and/or weight loss
  • Geldings can have swollen sheaths
  • Mares can show/have fluid retention along the mid line and a swollen udder

What are the Hormonal/Endocrine Factors?

The hypothalamus gland is located in the brain stem and controls mechanisms in the body such as:
  • Temperature regulation
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Hormones
  • Defense mechanisms such as the "fight or flight " response
The hypothalamus interacts closely with the pituitary gland that secretes the Adrenocorticotropic Hormone referred to as ACTH. The release of this hormone into the blood stream then stimulates the adrenal cortex to secrete Cortisol. Cortisol meanwhile increases blood sugar by stimulating the liver to break down stored protein. The increased levels of hormones in the blood stream are responsible for the "diabetes like" conditions such as excessive thirst coupled with excessive urination and sometimes weight loss. It can also cause visual dysfunction, and directly contributes to laminitis, which occurs more often with the Spring cortisol release. Couple that Spring cortisol release with the green grass in the pasture and it is a nightmare for these horses.

Cushing's horses are also prone to repeated skin and organ infections, this is thought to be due to the excessive release of Cortisol which depresses the immune response and the increased levels of blood sugar that create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.

What Diet Recommendations Do You Have for A Cushing’s or Metabolic Horse?

The Cushing's/Metabolic horses should have a diet rich in Bermuda or other low sugar low NSC hay like Teff, maybe blended with some Orchard and Timothy added. They also need extra amounts of vitamin E, vitamin C, and MSM. These horses also seem to benefit with small amounts of alfalfa as well and can be in the form of hay or alfalfa pellets.

Horses with Cushing's or Cushing’s-like symptoms should be fed a diet as close to natural as possible. They do best on soaked hay pellets - not concentrated bag feeds/grains - as most contain too many chemical additives and soy products or soy by-products.

In our experience over the years, these horses can have a few carrots and some slices of granny smith apples (they are low in sugars) as treats with no adverse affect/effect.

As for the concentrated feeds out there that are low in both sugar and carbohydrates (NSC), we have found with 10 years of experience that the horses not on these concentrated feeds - low NSC or not - do better.

We also include herbal and digestive support in our natural Cushing's support protocol discussed in detail below. The reason the herbs work well is that horses are herbivores - and they are able to use the medicinal property of the herbs by way of digestion. The herbs and digestive supplements are easily mixed into the soaked hay pellets.

What Sort of Natural Supplements/Treatments Are Available for Cushing’s/Metabolic Horses?

Allopathic, chemical treatments for Cushing's disease are available from your vet, but are in some cases quite costly, and they do come with side-affects including lethargy, depression, and more. Alternatively, we've seen great success with herbal and digestive support when used in conjunction with the dietary adjustments noted above.

The herbs selected for our Cushing's/Metabolic/IR support blend are ones that can help to regulate and balance hormonal cycles, promote blood sugar metabolism and support liver and pancreatic health, all the while strengthening the immune system. For improved digestion and absorption, we include our Equine-Zyme probiotic mix. All these items are included in our Cushing's Support Kit.
Equine Cushing's Support Kit - An Affordable, Natural Herbal Alternative
Natural Cushing's Support Kit

Natural Cushing's Support Kit

Earth Song Ranch, along with a holistic vet, designed this affordable natural herbal alternative to allopathic treatments.

Our Cushing's Support Kit includes:
  • 3.5 Lb of Equine Zyme, a probiotic/digestive enzyme blend (please note: this is shipped separately.)
  • 2 Lb of Organic Kelp
  • 2 Lb of Sunny's Herbal Formula for Cushing's Horses
  • 6 Qt package of the Chaste Tree Berry Tea, which you make fresh. We feel this is better than Evitex or Vitex Plus (by Hilton Herbs) and a lot more cost effective as well!
  • FREE SHIPPING (in the US) + $25 savings over purchasing separately. (For Canadian orders there will be extra shipping due.)
  • 4 page handout on nutritional suggestions, plus tips and tricks for helping your horse.
  • Please note you will receive the kit in TWO SEPARATE SHIPMENTS.

The synergistic effect of all four products has produced great results time and time again over the last 15+ years - helping to slow the progression or even to bring about a reversal of symptoms and a reduction in ACTH levels down closer to the normal range after consistent use over a few months.

For many horses that have been on the herbal blend, their owners could not afford the expensive medical treatments or the drugs. They chose to use an alternative approach in order to try to help their horses and they too got the same or similar results as Louisa Barton did with her horse Sunny (see Sunny's story below).

Do You Recommend Giving/Using Sunny’s Kit All Year Long?

We recommend giving the total kit in the Spring and Fall when the cortisol rises naturally occur.  However, we do recommend that you give your horse the Kelp and the Equine Zyme all year round to support digestive health and to keep the immune health boosted. The Iodine in the Kelp keeps the thyroid supported as it can also be affected by the pituitary inflammation with the onset of metabolic disorders. We find the Kit more effective if used as directed in the Spring and the Fall for approximately 60 days. Some customers feed it the first part of March through June for Spring - and then the first part of September thru November for Fall.
Read the Case Study on Natural Cushings Protocol Success in Elite Equestrian

Sunny - A Cushing's Natural Approach Success Story

Read the Earth Song Ranch Natural Cushings Protocol Case Study published in Elite Equestrian (or listen to) how the Cushing's Support Kit helped Sunny, a Florida horse owned by Fox's The Horse Talk Show Host and Executive Producer Louisa Barton, reduce his ACTH levels from 293 to 27 in under four months.

Also listen to Louisa Barton interview Jessica Lynn on Why the Fall is More of a Concern for Cushings & Pre-Fall Prevention Tips.
"This is Sunny, he is 29 years young due to some help from Earth Song Ranch and DAC vitamins!" - Louisa Barton


The information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from a veterinarian or other health care professional, and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment. A health care professional should be consulted before starting any diet or supplementation program, before administering any medication, alternative, herbal blends et al or if your horse has a health problem. Do not discontinue any other medical treatments without first consulting your health care professional. © 2023. Earth Song Ranch. All rights reserved.

Questions? We're Here to Help

We know choosing the right natural supplement for your horse can seem daunting. Earth Song Ranch is dedicated to educating our customers because we want you to make the best choice for your horse and your unique needs.

You'll find a variety of information in our published articles and archived newsletters here on our site. But sometimes, you just need to talk a situation out. For those times, we offer private phone consultations.

Cushing's Disease & Diet Consultations

We offer diet and nutritional consulting for those of you supporting a Cushing's horse - or looking to prevent Cushing's /IR/ Metabolic disorders from developing. Consultations are available in the following increments.

  • 30 minutes - $75
  • 60 minutes - $125

Go here to purchase a phone consultation.

Recommended Product

Natural Herbal Support for Equine Cushing's in a Cost-Saving Kit

Natural Cushing's Support Kit

An affordable, natural herbal alternative

Customer Feedback

Jessica Lynn at Earth Song Ranch - you're my miracle worker!! Sunny, diagnosed with Cushing's one year ago, had 10 times the normal ACTH level (293) and had every Cushing's symptom.

Today his blood work came back at 27. (35 is high normal).

He is now completely normal and can no longer be diagnosed with Cushing's. His fat deposits are all gone, his hair is growing back at a normal length, he is bright, vibrant, happy and loving life again....Sunny and I are both indebted to you!!"

— Louisa Barton, Host of NBC's The Horse Talk Show
"Shadow is a 21 year old Tennessee walker gelding, who has been on Pergolide for 4 years. He is taking 6.5 mg. I was using your Cushings Zyme for a rescue mini I had and, in April, started giving Shadow a daily dose of it. He seemed to brighten up considerably. For the first time, I had to shave him this year, but after being on Cushings Zyme for a month, his coat grew in black. He's supposed to be black, but has had an iron overloaded "orange" coat for 4 years. In his younger years, he never wavered from his pitch black coat, so I know what his coat should look like. I took him on a trip in the middle of May - a 10 hour trailer ride. He was so happy to go - wasn't even concerned that he was by himself in that trailer - just bright eyed and eating his hay bag with gusto. I don't remember when I last saw him like that. Thank you.
– Michelle R.
"I need to order another Cushings bag and also another bag of the Chaste Tree Berry Tea (with as many bags as will fit in that foil bag). My “boy” is doing good. He is shedding out very well, no neck crest or body swelling. I am so glad to help him stay as healthy as a “possible Cushings” horse might be, at this point, with natural ingredients to help him along, without medical pills. Pills may have to happen at some point but I am very happy about him right now. Thank you! I have you to thank for your help and natural products research that you do for our beloved animal family members. Thank you again and again for all your help and caring. You understand that our animals are not “things” or “toys,” but they are part of our family and our lives! I appreciate you so much for your loving concern to help us keep our whole family well and healthy. Thank you again!
– Bev
"I consult with Jessica on some horses who come through my training facility and have always been happy with what she suggested to use on a particular horse. We had a Cushing’s horse that she made her Cushings blend for and, without a doubt, helped this horse to live a happier life and kept him useable and healthier for several years longer without having to use the chemical aids! Jessica lives to help animals be happier and healthier!
– Hope Adams, AA Ranch

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About the Author

Jessica Lynn writes articles for various national and international horse publications. She is the owner of Earth Song Ranch, an herbal feed additive, pre/probiotic & herbal supplement manufacturer based in Southern California. As a life-long equestrian and professional animal nutritionist, homeopath, herbalist and animal intuitive, Jessica uses her knowledge to formulate herbal blends, probiotics and digestive enzymes for equine immune health. She has been involved in alternative health care, herbs, homeopathy, osteopathy and nutrition for animals and humans for over 6 decades.