Managing and Clipping a Horse with Cushing’s Disease
Horses that shed late, have crazy long hair coats because of genetics, or horses that have thick coats due to Cushing’s need help thermoregulation their temperature. Clipping a horse with Cushing’s, or really any horse with long, thick hair, is easy with the right tools. Clipping your horse might just become a year-round event to stop him from baking! Don’t worry; it can be easy to do with the right tools.
Managing The Horse With Cushing’s
How does Cushing’s in horses “work”
- While most of us know the term Cushing’s disease, it’s now officially called Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID). PPID originates in your horse’s brain, with a tumor on the pituitary gland. This unwelcome invader makes the pituitary gland do its job, but too much.
- The pituitary gland pumps out more adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) than is needed. Excessive ACTH begins the cascade of events that create the complications of PPID, starting with too much cortisol.
- Cortisol is a “stress hormone” that leads to increased insulin levels, sometimes to the extent of creating insulin resistance (IR) in your horse. The higher cortisol levels increase the chance of laminitis, make wooly coats, and contribute to muscle loss.
** Not all horses with Cushing’s disease show the thick, wooly, and shed-resistant coats. **
- Medications, usually Prascend®, can help manage Cushing’s in horses. A low sugar, low starch diet is also beneficial to help reduce the risk of laminitis. Add in grazing muzzles to make your horse’s salad as fresh as it can be.
- A horse with that long coat – technically called hirsutism – may be the most apparent complication. Your horse’s comfort is at stake here! Thick coats do not shed properly, and summer coats are often much thicker, creating temperature regulation struggles.
- The increased risk of laminitis is a tragic complication. For many horses, an episode of laminitis is the first clue that something is going on with your horse’s metabolism.
- Cushing’s will also interfere with your horse’s immune system. Infections, hoof abscesses, and trouble fighting any pathogen are all increased.
Clipping a horse with Cushing’s
- While adding meds and a diet change are relatively easy to do, managing the thick coat can be challenging.
- Cortisol is a steroid and directly impacts the hair follicles of some horses. Those increased stress hormone levels pump up hair production. The result is SO MUCH HAIR – and wasted energy. Growing all of that hair takes proteins and energy away from your horse’s other body needs.
- It’s also necessary to clip most horses to help them regulate their body temperatures. It’s just a nice thing to do! Summer is hot already, and your horse doesn’t need a fur jacket. Depending on your area and climate, clipping into fall and winter may be necessary, too. And spring, come to think of it.
Body clippers with a 10 Wide blade, Lister Stars, and trimmers with a 5-in-1 blade.
Pick the best clippers for your horse.
- Trimmers will scream and die when merely brought in the vicinity of a full-blown Cushing’s coat situation. These little clippers are for touch-ups, bridle paths, and basic trimming.
- Body clippers might be OK – it’s a fine line. Body clippers may work, but clipping the horse with Cushing’s won’t be easy, fast, or pretty. You need power!
- It’s time to bust out the larger livestock style of shears. You don’t have to get the livestock blades! There are horse blades that give you tons of options.
- The beauty of using larger clippers is two-fold. The blades are wide, so your clipping is more efficient. The clipper body and motor are also wildly powerful and able to clip through the thickest of horse coats.
- Shears can be tricky to navigate over legs. One option is to remove the bulk of leg hair with shears. The result may not be pretty or finished! Come back with body clippers for more detailed work and fine-tuning the legs.
Here’s how to prep your shears for clipping.
Choose the best clipper blades for your horse.
- When working with the larger clippers, you will need appropriate blades. They come in two pieces, and you have to screw them on your clipper body and then tension them for the best fit.
Most blades are labeled similarly to these categories:
- Fine blades are the equivalent of a #15 blade, leaving 1.4 mm of hair on your horse. The hair will be shorter than using a #10 blade.
- Coarse and Medium blades leave 2.5 mm of hair, comparable to a #9 blade.
- Covercote blades leave 5 mm of hair.
- With these options, you can pair the best blade system for your horse’s needs and the time of year.
These shears are powerful!
When to clip the horse with Cushing’s
- There is no set time, or season, or month to clip your horse, regardless of his Cushing’s status. Clip when he needs it.
Some signs it’s time to clip your horse:
- Clip when there is unmanageable sweating, any time of year.
- Clip when your horse has trouble with cooling out. His body temperature will take longer than usual to return to normal temperature.
- Clip when there’s a mismatch between the weather and his coat. Paying close attention to this will also influence which blade to use.
- Clip when the shedding of his winter coat is too slow for the warming temperatures.
Full body clip or a trace clip?
- A trace clip is helpful if your spring temps are still cold. Otherwise, opt for a full-body clip. You can always clip all of the hair and use sheets until the weather evens out.
- You can also vary the style of body clip that you do. Generally speaking, in warmer summer months, a body clip is necessary, legs and face included.
- In the winter, any variation of a trace clip will usually work well. Concentrate on the sweaty areas. Another option is to do a complete clipping in the fall, and let some of it grow back in. Then you can touch up with a trace clip as the weather gets cold.
- Using a medium or covercote blade on your horse’s entire body in winter is another option.
Your horse will dictate how often he needs clipping!
Clipping a horse with Cushing’s disease is often necessary to keep him happy and comfortable. You will become a clipping expert. And don’t forget to start with a clean horse and use clipper oil every 5 minutes!
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