Equine metabolic disorders – how you can help your horse


Your first course of action is to get your veterinarian involved in making a plan. You have lots of angles to attack from, and ultimately, you need to make these things happen to lessen the risk of your horse developing laminitis and to keep him healthy and active overall.


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Both Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushing’s disease can be managed to reduce the risk of developing laminitis.

Work on your horse’s diet.


  • This is a priority at the top of the list. Insulin Resistance is directly linked to obesity in horses, and PPID is the result of a tumor on the pituitary gland that can lead to Insulin Resistance. Lots of steps in between, but both conditions warrant a horse’s diet to be low starch.


  • Look for low NSC value hays. Soak your horse’s hay to get any remaining bits of the starch out. Know exactly what he eats. Don’t just cut back, his body can go into hoarding mode and actually do more harm than good. You also can’t just cut out all products that balance his diet, like supplements and feeds and grains. You need to switch to safer products. NSC values below 10% are best. They do exist. A good place to start is to avoid anything that uses molasses as an ingredient.



  • Another reason to analyze supplements and feeds is to make sure your horse will still be getting the basic vitamins and minerals that he needs. This varies across the US, as some vitamins and minerals have a direct link to the soil. Selenium is a good example of that.


  • Your absolute best bet is to have an Equine Nutritionist analyze your horse’s medical history and current diet and help you craft the most balanced and safe forages and feeds for your horse. This is super affordable! And, you will very likely get your investment back, as you will probably find you were overlapping things that can now be cut to save some bucks.


horse eating from a hay net inside a tub outside

Slow feeders in a dry lot are a huge benefit to Cushing’s and IR horses.


Supplements that treat metabolic horses.


  • Start to be a curious skeptic. Know the difference between testimonials and actual proven science. Don’t be fooled by a supplement company that claims one of their key ingredients is proven to do this, that, the other. It may be true for one ingredient, but the entire product needs to be proven. And then proven in horses. Your veterinarian can certainly help you with this, as can an Equine Nutritionist.


Exercise can help your metabolic horse!


  • Your horse needs to move and pump his blood around. Assuming he’s sound and can exercise, you may need to up the game in a kind and thoughtful way to help him trim down a bit. And increase his metabolic rates.


  • If he’s a weekend warrior horse, find a way to help him exercise every day instead of just a few days a week. Recognize the difference between turn out where he meanders around and actual exercise. Think of the difference between going to Target and shopping the aisles versus the exact same number of steps briskly walking around. Or even better, up some hills.


horse on trail ride in big field

Keep your horse moving – all year long.


Use dry lots for turn-outs instead of grass pasture.


  • For severe cases and high laminitis risk horses, dry lots are the only acceptable way to turn a horse out. Pasture, while delicious and so pretty and romantic, can also send your horse into laminitis. There are loads of ways make dry lots wonderful for horses, and that includes using slow feeders and such.


Grazing muzzles for lower-risk horses.


  • Grazing muzzles can reduce the volume of grass a horse gets by 80-ish % when used correctly. You may be tempted to just turn out for a shorter period of time, but horses are smart and will learn to consume vast amounts in a shorter period. This may have the same effect as busting into the grain bins.


  • Muzzles let your horse be on grass longer, with smaller amounts eaten. Muzzles are also a fantastic way to acclimate your horse to grazing, and to use during his “sugar” times of day – after a chilly night, spring, and fall.


  • And also, muzzles are cheaper than vet bills.


horse looking to the side wearing a green grazing muzzle

This is the Greenguard Equine Muzzle – airy, light, and effective.


Weight Management


  • You have started to help your metabolic horse with some more exercise and a more suitable diet. If he was overweight to start with, you are now tasked with making sure his weight comes off safely and consistently. The only way to truly measure is to use a weight tape. Frequently.


Regular blood work and veterinary visits for the horse with Equine Metabolic Syndrome!


  • Some metabolic conditions, like PPID, respond well to medications. But – they will only work if the proper dose is given. Regular bloodwork can help your horse get the best possible dose for that time of year.


  • For PPID cases, in particular, your vet will be measuring ACTH, which naturally rises in the fall. So, you may find that an adjustment to dosage is necessary during parts of the year.


Groom your horse more and more!


  • PPID horses often have trouble shedding, and even their summer coats are thick. Keep your horse cool by appropriately clipping him. Even in winter, a horse’s coat can be too thick. And definitely uncomfortable in the summer!


Keep tabs on what’s going on in your horse’s hooves.


  • It’s a good idea anyway to get your horse’s hooves x-rayed to be sure everything is balanced. Even the best Farrier in the world won’t know exactly what’s going on with the coffin bone until x-rays are done.


hoof x ray with pastern


  • This is important, as it’s now understood many horses develop some form of laminitis every year. We are starting to see that is that laminitis is much more subtle than a horribly lame horse. Read this study for deets.


Most importantly, don’t get paranoid about all of this.


  • Just know your metabolic horse is at a greater risk of laminitis. Do the smart things to his diet, exercise, and turn out routine to minimize his risk. Toss in regular blood work and perhaps some hoof x-rays to stay ahead of things. And enjoy every last minute with your horse!



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Use code 15PROEQUINE for savings sitewide on muzzles, halters, slow feeders, and more.

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