Feeding the Cushing's horse to *GAIN* weight

Hi! I’m feeling very confused about what to feed my Cushing’s horse, as there’s a lot of information focused on the exceptionally easy keeper. This horse is not IR and definitely not an easy keeper.

I’ve been told to feed a small amount of beet pulp or Stabul as a carrier for minerals. But that doesn’t seem like enough calories for a hard keeper.

Is there a way to get more calories into Cushing’s horses without too much sugar? Does anyone feed a higher calorie grain even though it might have a higher NSC? Does anyone add oil or rice bran? (I’ve heard conflicting opinions on adding fat.)

We feed rice bran and Haystack Special Blend to a couple of Cushing’s horses who need more groceries.

I had an elderly mare with Cushings. She was an easy keeper in her youth, but not as she got older.

In her old age she was getting
Senior feed (lower starch than the “low starch” feed)
Rice bran oil (it is actually a combination of oils, but the label says “rice bran oil”)
Soaked beet pulp
Hay, which switched to chopped hay as as she got older and had trouble chewing regular hay (as well as pasture).

She died at age 34.

I currently have a 26 yo Cushings mare, and she is still an easy keeper. She gets a grass based ration balancer in addition to pasture, very rarely extra hay.

My IR/Cushings horse(RIP) became a bit of a hard keeper when he hit 25.

I fed him a custom, condensed vit/mineral mix from HorseTech that included a higher dosage of fat calories AND increased dosage of amino acids. <——it’s easy to confuse muscle loss with fat loss if the ribs are visible:)

I also fed him rice bran and Camelina Oil. His supplements were mixed into timothy pellets — I don’t own a horse that will eat beet pulp in any form - sure made the neighbor’s goats happy​:exploding_head::exploding_head:


The ECIR forum has a ton of information on this topic.

Weight loss can be a sign that Cushing’s isn’t adequately controlled. Double checking levels/meds never hurts. If everything looks good, NSC tested forage (mulched if your horse has poor dentition) and ground flax are both great ways to get calories in. Triple Crown’s Timothy Balance cubes are Cushing’s-safe. Alfalfa tends to run low too, though some metabolic horses are sensitive to it.

The Stabul diets are frustratingly lower in calories.
Hallway’s Fibrenergy has 1447 calories per pound and is around 10% NSC. Triple Crown Senior Gold is 1800 calories per pound and 11.4% NSC (my PPID gelding did well on a 12% NSC concentrate with Triple Crown Timothy Balance cubes and mulched alfalfa, so that extra 1.4% might not be a dealbreaker depending on how carb-sensitive your horse is).


Thank you, I appreciate the responses so far. I’m glad others have experience feeding some higher calorie feeds, including oil. While I know I need to be careful with a Cushing’s diet and every horse is an individual, I don’t want to miss out on trying something like an 11.4% NSC feed if it could work just as well and might even work better because it provides more concentrated calories in less volume.

Might help to know what feeds you have good access to? My first thought was to soak hay pellets, alfalfa in particular. What’s the teeth situation like?
I also agree that retesting, and checking meds, might be useful.

Just because your horse has Cushing’s doesn’t mean they’re insulin resistant. Checking insulin levels or doing an oral sugar test can help you determine this. If they aren’t insulin resistant, feed em whatever works best for weight. That being said oil is always safe as a weight gain option for even insulin resistant horses.


If it is feasible, test your hay so you know your NSC/WSC/starch from the bulk of the ration (grass is trickier but still testable). Weigh the daily hay/forage ration, then figure the total NSC/etc in pounds/ounces/whatever measurement is easiest for you (for whatever reason I prefer to work in ounces, but need to get more comfortable with g/kg). Then do the same for the feed. Good quality protein and quality fat sources are your friend here, if you can pack more calories into a smaller ration you have a touch of leeway with the NSC.

So NSC weight hay/forage + NSC weight feed = total NSC weight. Divide the total weight NSC by the total weight of ration, then multiply by 100 to get the total % NSC of the ration. Ideally that should be under 12% for a Cushing’s horse (10% for IR and laminitic cases).

With feed, look at the feeding rate as well as the NSC. A lower calorie 11% NSC feed that needs 8 lbs a day to get the weight gain you want (0.88 lbs NSC) versus a higher calorie 13% NSC feed that only needs 5 lbs (0.65 lbs NSC) to get the results you’re looking for is going to be more beneficial.

I’m pretty sure I have my calculations and numbers right, but it’s late and all of my references are at work, so I’ll check back tomorrow morning on my accuracy!

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that’s not necessarily the best idea though. IR often comes along behind PPID, and there’s some research indicating they are linked (which is why if often comes behind PPID). The goal for PPID is a lower NSC diet, though it doesn’t have to be as low as the optimal IR diet

Not always. There’s some evidence that high-fat diets can exacerbate IR issues


I would absolutely try TC Sr Gold if you can get it!

Rice bran brings around 20% NSC, so you’d need to do some math to calculate the average NSC in the diet. It’s not something I’d add.

Oil can work, no NSC there, but I’d go with the TC Sr Gold if you can get that. Then you’d reduce or eliminate the minerals, depending on what that is exactly

Yes! Not all cushings horses are insulin resistant! Mine’s had cushings for years. He was an easy keeper until diagnosis (sore feet) and started losing weight after started on prascend. I added a small amount of grain and he was fine. He’s even on full pasture. It’s been at least 10 years and the only way he will take his now compounded powdered pergolide is mixed with a big glob of molasses. So good thing for him that he never developed ir!

The math is right! :slight_smile:

And yes, many people get caught up in the NSC number, without ever taking into account how much of that thing you’re feeding, or how it affects the entire diet.

My Cushing’s but not IR horse went off his feed when we put him on Prascend. The vet said it was not uncommon for horses to lose their appetite when they first start on Prascend. We ended up halving the dose for a few months until he regained his appetite and then building it back up to the full dose. We also had to syringe it to make sure he actually got the meds.

There is very good work in horses that fat is safe. I strongly recommend calling an equine nutritionist (ie a person with a PhD in nutrition) to help formulate a diet for the tough Cushing’s horse. It will matter if the horse is truly IR or not since that helps determine what’s most important. Pain is also a huge determinant in metabolic rate and so laminitis flares can change everything. I personally really like the Purina nutrition crew. You can reach them by calling the 1-800 number on any Purina bag. I don’t even feed Purina and they’re my go to.

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My comment was in relation to you saying “oil is always safe as a weight gain option for even insulin resistant horses”, and even “If they aren’t insulin resistant, feed em whatever works best for weight.”

You can’t simply feed the PPID non-IR horse as if he’s a high performance horse who needs higher NSC in his diet even if that did put weight on him. “They” have done enough research on feeding PPID non-IR horses to know that’s not always a good idea. There’s a reason the ECIR group has recommendations for feeding those horses.

As for the dietary fat and IR horse, like I said, there IS research showing it isn’t always a good idea
What Is the Effect of a High-Fat Diet on Insulin Sensitivity in Older Horses? - Kentucky Equine Research (ker.com)

The influence of dietary fat on insulin resistance - PubMed (nih.gov)

That doesn’t mean adding some fat WILL cause or worse IR issues. But it does mean what I said - there’s some research indicating they are linked


EMS —This condition is associated with ID, increased fat deposition on the body, and a reduced ability to lose weight, she said. Risk factors for its development include obesity, a cresty neck, random or abnormal fat deposits on the body, and concurrent diseases, including PPID.

It is always best to treat the PPID horse as if he is at least mildly IR, or will become IR.

That doesn’t mean you can’t feed a highER fat diet, but saying “oil is always safe for even IR horses” is just not a valid statement.

Edit: I realized I forgot to put the link the to article I pulled the quote from
EMS and PPID: What’s the Same, What’s the Difference? – The Horse

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Going back to my rule to stay off of here.
To person looking to help their underweight Cushing’s horse: call the 1-800 number on the back of your feed bag and talk w an equine nutritionist, or check w your local County Extension Service (it’s free and part of your tax dollars in the US). They will help you design a diet that works for you and your horse. Way better advice than any armchair quarterback on a forum will give you.

Including having someone say that adding oil is always safe as a weight gain option for even insulin resistant horses.

A good nutritionist is always the best advice for a metabolic horse.

I HIGHLY recommend the ECIR group - which has nutritionists and tons of research - for advice on how to feed the harder keeper, and I guarantee that advice will start with - what’s the dose of Prascend and has ACTH been re-tested since starting, because as BootsAndCoffee said, weigh tloss can be a sign that it’s not properly controlled.

I didn’t even see anyone ask if the OP’s horse is even on Prascend, how long ago he was put on it, etc.

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JB… shades of Palm Beach. Ouch.

OP - listen to JB. She’s a long long ways from being “any armchair quarterback on a forum”.

Good grief.