Equine Cushing's disease, medically known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunctions (PPID), is an endocrine (hormone) disease affecting the pituitary gland in horses.
The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain, and it's the master gland responsible for hormone production for brain signaling which affects the whole body. It can be a devastating diagnosis for horse owners. The disease primarily affects horses over the age of 10, with 19 years being the average age of diagnosis .
In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at what the current research says about CBD and this metabolic syndrome.
Symptoms Of Cushing's Syndrome In Horses
Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunctions (PPID) or Cushing's disease is an example of metabolic syndrome that increases the risk of heart disease and strokes. It's a very slow and progressive disease, so early veterinary intervention can help to improve your horses' quality of life.
In PPID, the pituitary gland—also known as the master hormone gland—becomes overactive and produces large amounts of the adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH). Not much is known about what causes PPID, but it has been observed to occur from a benign pituitary tumor most prevalent in older horses.
One of the functions of ACTH is to stimulate the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. When left untreated, elevated ACTH increases cortisol levels in your horses' body that can lead to very serious consequences.
Clinical signs that a horse may have Cushing's syndrome include:
- A pot-bellied appearance
- Drastic changes in weight
- Abnormal fat distribution, especially in the face
- Muscle loss
- Increased coat length, and failure to shed coat in summer
- Slow wound healing
- Prone to infections
- Excessive drinking and urinating
- Development of laminitis
If you notice these changes in your horse's body and see a noticeable difference in its mood, you should seek professional advice from your vet to get a proper diagnosis.
Cushing's is a very slow and progressive disease, so early veterinary intervention can help to improve your horses' quality of life.
Diagnosing Cushing's In Horses
The most common way to test for Cushing's is with the low-dose dexamethasone suppression (LLD) test.
This test is typically conducted overnight and requires a baseline blood sample for cortisol levels. The vet will then administer a dose of dexamethasone and test blood samples 18–20 hours later. In a healthy horse, the cortisol levels will decrease from the injection of dexamethasone. However, horses with Cushing's will still have elevated cortisol levels.
Insulin resistance is common in equines diagnosed with Cushing's so a blood glucose or insulin test is also recommended in conjunction with testing for Cushing's.
What Are Conventional Treatments For Cushing's Disease In Horses
A Cushing's diagnosis is devastating. While there is no cure for PPID, with veterinary treatment, a balanced nutrition plan, and careful management, many horses and ponies can live comfortable and active lives for many years after their diagnosis.
Most vets will recommend a focus on a low-carb diet to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and weight in your horse and careful monitoring every six to eight months to track the progression of PPID.
When it comes to medications, your vet may prescribe dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol agonists. The most common medication for PPID is dopamine agonists, which help to control the overactive pituitary gland.
Some of the negative side-effects of dopamine agonist medications include:
- Digestive issues
- Weight loss
What Is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is a naturally derived compound from cannabis plants. It's one of over a hundred compounds in a class called cannabinoids.
These cannabinoids look very similar to neurotransmitters in mammal bodies called endogenous cannabinoids in a system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis (balance) in a wide variety of functions, including the sleep-wake cycle, stress, metabolism, mood, and the immune system.
CBD is not to be confused with its more notorious cousin, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Unlike THC, CBD does not produce intoxicating effects, which makes it a more reliable compound in terms of supporting one's health with daily use.
Hemp crops have high concentrations of CBD, and that's where legal CBD comes from. Thanks to the US Farm Bill in 2018, hemp crops that contain up to 0.3% THC were legalized, while marijuana plants (anything with over 0.3% THC) remain federally illegal.
CBD is incredibly versatile and can be found in anything from capsules, sublingual oils, topical treatments, and even pet treats and food.
How Does CBD Work For Horses?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a major signaling system that exists in humans and our furry pets. There's still limited research surrounding horses for cannabis-related studies. However, researchers agree that CBD appears to stimulate horse's ECS in the same way it does in humans.
CBD, even in high doses, is well-tolerated and can provide positive uses to support health and wellness with very few adverse effects.
Cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, CBN, and THC from hemp and naturally produced cannabinoids in the body (endogenous) communicate in the intricate endocannabinoid system's receptors to turn on key functions to maintain homeostasis (balance) for optimal body function.
When we become out of balance in one system for too long, such as poor stress levels, irregular sleep cycles, or disrupted hormone function, horses and humans become prone to serious health issues. Supplementing your equine's diet with CBD allows the endocannabinoid system to function more effectively to help deal with stress better for improved wellness.
CBD For Horses And Its Profound Benefits
Support ECS For Healthy Inflammatory Response
One of the roles of the endocannabinoid system is to regulate healthy levels of inflammation.
CBD products help to increase the body's levels of endocannabinoids and slows the breakdown of these neurotransmitters to improve the ECS function.
Horses with a Cushing's diagnosis are susceptible to insulin resistance, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, which are all linked with inflammation.
The CB2 receptor plays an important role in regulating healthy inflammation. CBD may help to improve the levels of endogenous cannabinoids for improved communication with CB2 receptors for gentle and natural-based support in the immune system .
Support ECS For Comfort Levels In Your Horse
Equines with a Cushing's diagnosis are more susceptible to laminitis, a condition that affects the tissues binding the hoof wall to the pedal bone. Since PPID affects hormone function and can result in excessive weight gain, it can put a lot of pressure on these joints causing tremendous pain.
CBD oil may help to support comfort levels in your horse. As we mentioned in the previous point, CBD helps the ECS regulate inflammation. While inflammation is a healthy response to support wound healing and fight off infection, too much inflammation can result in pain and tissue damage as seen in laminitis.
Support Healthy Recovery Post-Exercise
For horses that undergo a lot of training, CBD may help to support your equine's muscle recovery, to keep them in their healthiest form. Adding CBD oil to your horses' wellness regime may help with their performance as it may help to support post-exercise recovery and maintain healthy levels of stress.
Calm Your Horse
CBD has been studied for its calming and relaxing benefits, which may help to combat the negative effects of stress.
Stress is an important protective mechanism for the fight-or-flight response, but it was never meant to be turned on 24/7. Chronic stress leads to a wide host of health conditions that presents themselves in Cushing's syndrome in horses.
Many trainers reach for CBD oil to keep their horses calm in stressful situations like transportation or when adapting them to a new environment.
Frequently Asked Questions About Horses & CBD
How Much CBD Should I Give My Horse?
Dosing CBD for humans and animals is always a tricky subject as it depends on many different factors and can take some experimentation to find the ideal dose. CBD is typically dosed depending on weight, so you'll need much more CBD for your horse than you would for yourself or your dog.
Look for CBD products marketed for horses, as they will have more appropriate strengths suited to the size of your horse, and follow the instructions with the lowest dose and monitor your horses' behavior before increasing the dose.
If you plan on giving CBD products to your horse to support a health condition, we strongly advise that you speak with your veterinarian to ensure that it's the right thing to do. We want to underscore that there is no evidence that CBD can treat horses with Cushing's.
How Do I Give My Horse CBD?
Edible CBD oil and treats are the most common products marketed for horses, one of the easiest ways to give your horse CBD is to disguise it in their feed or to give it to them straight in their mouths if they're not fussy.
At Neurogan, we offer CBD hemp pellets for horses. These palettes are made with one simple ingredient, high-quality, sun-grown hemp. They provide the benefits of the cannabinoids and terpenes from hemp and are an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants that may help reduce oxidative stress.
Will CBD Show Up On A Drug Test For Competition Horses?
CBD and other metabolites from hemp-based cannabinoids may be detected in blood and urine samples for up to 2 weeks after taking it and may result in a failed drug test.
When it comes to racing horses, this may disqualify them from competing, but more ongoing research is underway to clarify the rules surrounding legal hemp extractions and horse racing as more benefits emerge supporting CBD for equine health.
What Are The Side-Effects Of CBD In Horses?
CBD has been shown in multiple studies to be a well-tolerated compound even at high doses, so it's relatively safe . That being said, it's not completely without potential side effects.
Luckily, the adverse effects of CBD wear off when it leaves your system, and it's more likely to happen when you give your horse too much CBD.
Some of the side-effects of CBD to look out for in your horses include:
- Dry mouth
Our pets can't let us know when something's wrong, so always monitor your horse after giving them CBD to ensure there are no negative interactions and to mitigate the chances of inducing a negative experience.
How To Buy CBD For Horses
When it comes to shopping for pet products in the CBD space, it can be even trickier to decipher the legitimate products from snake oil.
The food packaged for animals typically comes from off-cuts and isn't as high of quality or nutrient-dense as food for humans. When you love animals as much as we do, we make sure our animals are getting the best quality possible when it comes to food and CBD products.
Here's what you can do to make sure you're buying the highest-quality CBD products for your horses.
1. Know Where The Hemp Was Grown
Look to make sure the source of hemp was grown using the best farming practices. High-quality CBD oil starts with a clean hemp source. Unfortunately, not all brands take hemp sourcing seriously. While the United States is known for its high agricultural standards, the same can't be said for other countries' hemp crops.
Hemp is highly sensitive to its growing environment. It can absorb many contaminants such as heavy metals and pesticides in the soil and surrounding area, which is why farming practices and hemp sourcing is critical when shopping for CBD products to support your animal's health.
2. Buy Full Spectrum Or THC-Free Broad Spectrum Extracts
There is more than one beneficial compound found in hemp. In fact, there are over a hundred cannabinoids and dozens of terpenes in hemp that can support the effects of CBD in the endocannabinoid system.
To leverage the full benefits that hemp has to offer, you want to give your horses a CBD product that works as hard as they do. Full spectrum extracts are the least processed and more natural form of hemp extracts, they contain as much of the natural plant profile, which means it can include up to 03% THC.
If you're looking for a THC-free option, broad spectrum CBD is your best bet. It undergoes further processing to filter out THC, while still providing whole-plant synergy for a more potent CBD product.
CBD isolate or distillate products only contain one active ingredient from hemp—CBD. It also tends to be cheaper as it requires less careful extraction methods from the cannabis plant, and manufacturers can sell it in bulk at cheaper prices. CBD isolate on its own can still provide holistic wellness benefits, but it won't be as potent and increase the risk of inducing adverse effects.
3. High Potency CBD
CBD oil is typically dosed based on size. Since horses way much more than humans do, make sure the CBD products you're buying have the appropriate strength to support a horse's endocannabinoid system. Shop with brands that have a line of CBD products for horses as the potency tends to be much higher (upwards of 4000 MG/1 oz bottle).
The Takeaway: Can CBD Oil Help With Cushing's?
There is no cure for Cushing's syndrome in horses, but CBD may help improve your equine's quality of life. With veterinary care and changes in nutrition, horses can enjoy a comfortable life for years to come after a diagnosis.
CBD does show a lot of promise for supporting a healthier lifestyle in humans and animals, but we always recommend you speak with your veterinarian before giving CBD to your horse with Cushing's.
If you're looking for more articles like this on how to give your pet a happier life with CBD, be sure to check out our other blog posts or sign up for our newsletter to receive the Inside Scoop on the latest findings in the CBD industry straight to your inbox.
Resources Cited In This Article:
- Sousa, I. N. (2018). Design of an endovascular morcellator for the surgical treatment of equine Cushing's disease (Doctoral dissertation).Chicago
- Ashton, J. C., & Glass, M. (2007). The cannabinoid CB2 receptor as a target for inflammation-dependent neurodegeneration. Current neuropharmacology, 5(2), 73-80.