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Hard to keep gelding with cushing's disease

Hi all! I have a spectacularly hard to keep gelding that has just been diagnosed with cushing’s disease. This is far from my first rodeo with this condition, we currently have six horses on the property with it, but he has been causing us quite the headache.

Walter, the gelding is question, is a 17yo Danish warmblood. He has enjoyed many successful years in the 1.10m-1.35m jumpers and is far from ready to retire. This year he started to drop weight and muscle tone (despite keeping him in constant work and upping his hay, fat and fiber intake) and then didn’t shed out his thick winter coat in a timely fashion. After checking his teeth, fecal count, Lymes and other tick borns, scoping for ulcers and doing several blood screenings we decided to check him for cushings and low and behold he came back positive. We started him on a pergolide regimen and changed his diet but have seen little improvement. After talking with the vet and doing another physical we have increased his pergolide dosage… That was a month ago and we’ve seen little improvement. He is as happy and sound as ever, but his weight just won’t recover. I am getting worried now as we get closer and closer to winter.

I guess I’m just wondering if anyone has any advice on getting weight on an older guy with cushings. I thought I knew my way around this condition but I’m at my wits end! The other guys bounced back quickly after treatment with the pergolide and dietary changes. Any insight or direction into where to go next would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks for reading!

Standlee compressed alfalfa, Alfalfa Dengie from Lucerne Farms, Purina Equine Senior, and good quality soft green grass hay have been effective at my house. We recently put down our 28 year old. He was not an easy keeper, but did well with those feeds. I always had to mix in a half scoop of various other feeds to the Equine Senior as he got bored with the flavor of the Senior feed. Ultium, Omolene 100 or oats would add a new flavor. Good luck. It isn’t easy.

Are you using Prascend or the compounded pergolide?

My gelding became a hard keeper with Cushing’s. He gets a flake of alfalfa in the morning (in addition to grass hay in the evening) and just a few lbs of Triple Crown Sr. per day. The small amount of Sr. feed really made a difference!

He’s on the prascend. He is on 4lbs of senior feed am and pm. He also gets aprox 1lb of alfalox forage and 3lb of soaked beet pulp three times a day. We have him on 1/2lb rice bran twice a day and 1/3lb black oil sunflower seeds twice a day. He has his own pasture on grass and free choice hay with his elderly donkey friend because he gets picked on if turned out with other horses.

Wow, that is a spectacularly hard keeper! What kind of hay? I’ll let someone more experienced chime in… My “hard keeper” plumped right up with alfalfa and about 3 lbs of Sr. feed a day. My only other suggestion would be an amino acid supplement like Tri-Amino or Nutramino. I have a vague idea that amino acids help them digest protein more efficiently, but I could be remembering that wrong.

I don’t know how hot it is where you are, but my gelding actually has a harder time keeping weight on in the summer and does better over the winter (we have very mild winters). Just a thought.

My old Cushings mare is also a hard keeper. I give her Ultium. It’s the highest calorie concentrate available and 16% NSC. Along with good pasture in the summer, free choice hay in the winter, and Prascend, she looks great.

My 29yr old WB was diagnosed this summer with early cushings. He is too thin, regardless of how much he’s given to eat. Right now, he’s on 20lbs alfalfa hay + 6 to 8 lbs of Ultium. He’s also IR, so is allowed no pasture grass even though my pastures are Bermuda & very low nsc.

Did his test include acth levels? Insulin Resistance often goes along with Cushing’s, so you’ll need to watch his sugar and starch intake. TC Sr is 11% nsc, iirc, and provides around 10% fat. Ultium provides 15% fat, but also has a higher NSC.

He’s always been just a touch on the lean side, never ribby or as hollow as he is now but definitely one of those guys that easily stresses is weight off at the blink of an eye. Walter is the quintessential “high speed low drag” type of jumper. He’s also a big dude, standing 17.1h and riding like a 19h beast in the jump off lol! I can’t remember his ACTH levels at the moment but can get them from my vet. I know we weren’t worried about IR during his last vet visit… Aside from the weight issue he is incredibly happy and sound. We had noticed his stamina flagging before we tested for cushings, and he was wayyy too quiet to be healthy… Which is why we initially tested him for Lymes. He’s a big powerful ex Grand Prix horse that is still game to win a jump off in the 1.30m at 17. He’s never had any injuries (knock on wood) and has held up incredibly well. For him to come out stiff and kicking quiet like a lesson pony was a major red flag. Since starting treatment his personality has comeback and the stiffness vansished. Now it’s just the weight issue we need to tackle. We feed him poulin senior, but I am more then willing to look into other feed options. Our hay is a local blend of orchard grass and Timothy. Like all New England hay it is low in E and selenium which we supplement for. I stuff him full of hay but he has always been one that would prefer to make a bed out of it then eat it.

Will he eat more senior feed? At times, our 28 year old would eat up to 16lbs per day of Purina Equine Senior, in addition to a little Ultium or Omolene 100, alfalfa and grass hay.

OP, I feel your pain. I have a 17-year-old TB mare with Cushings, and the Cushings was diagnosed after she lost about 200 pounds within a matter of weeks, despite stuffing her with food and having her in consistent work.

Currently she’s on 12 pounds of Equine SR per day, free choice quality hay, fat supplements, Prascend, and has access to grass pasture 24-7. What’s tricky about her is that some days she’ll eat everything, other days she won’t. She’s also incredibly picky; she decided that she doesn’t like certain weight builders, and then won’t eat ANY of her grain if they’re included. We go in rotation.

If you find something that works, please let me know! I’m thinking of adding in beet pulp (I just bought a barn and moved her home, so I can do a lot more in terms of adding special feeds to her diet). We’ll see.

I fed my cushings hard keeper a grain formulated for lactating mares. As I recall there’s a lot of fiber in senior feeds and she just wouldn’t eat the volume necessary to put on weight.

I am willing to try upping his feed, though I won’t lie it scares me a bit. He used to maintain at 2.5lbs of senior twice a day and 3 lbs of beet pulp once a day. Now he is getting 4lbs of senior twice a day and 3 lbs of beet pulp three times a day plus three pounds of alfalox forage, rice bran and black oil sunflower seeds. I just worry that upping his grain could lead to an ulcer. Which he has been prone to in the past and would make the weight issue worse.

Has anyone on here used SmartPituitary Senior? Or chasteberry in general? Someone just sent me a link and It looks very interesting!

I fed my cushings hard keeper a grain formulated for lactating mares. As I recall there’s a lot of fiber in senior feeds and she just wouldn’t eat the volume necessary to put on weight.[/QUOTE]

What feed is that? I would love to compare it to what he’s currently on!

You might have to give up the “ideal” diet and go for something different and hten hope his teeth/body hold up with the diet change. I wont suggest feeds as being in Australia if quite different here.

For example i have 2 oldies here paddocked together - one is on pergolide. He is currently fed a weaner grower pellet with lucerne chaff and supps and meadow/grass hay. The other old boy hes out with is a lean hard keeper type and on 3kg of lupins soaked/2kg studmaster pellets soaked and supps (and is looking pretty good for him) No chaffs. He’s got crappy teeth hence the preference for the meadow hay for them. The oldie on the pergolide is not doing well without his oaten hay tho so i’m going to have to put them back on that and let the hard keepers teeth deteriorate more.

Im struggling with the same horse, I think, OP! But in addition to the wight woes, the Prascend has taken his appetite away also. We tried a winstrol steroid shot which seemed to bounce him back. I have finally found a source to buy Triple Crown senior for him, so we are 1 week into that change. He gets free choice grass hay and I also supplement my ‘old guys’ with a slice of good alfalfa for each twice a day in their paddock. He won’t eat any powder supplements, nor wet soaked foods.

Cushings is a real pain. It affects each horse so differently and then the meds affect each horse so differently, its really hard to have a plan for treatment.

Everyone thinks of the Cushing’s/PPID horses as fat, but on my retirement farm some of my Cushing’s/PPID residents are my hardest keepers. One suggestion I would have is trying to combine feeding some of the beet pulp he currently gets WITH his grain twice per day. Hubby is a large animal nutritionist and he always says combining a strong fiber source (hay pellets, beet pulp, hay cubes, etc) WITH the grain at the same time slows down the passage of the entire meal through the GI tract and allows it to be more thoroughly digested and absorbed. This has served us well with several hard keeping PPID horses.

If the grain is a senior, complete feed (meaning has fiber and all needed nutritional components), increasing the amount to what is recommended on the bag should not increase the ulcer risk. If you are worried, also increase the amount of alfalfa.

We fed the old guy up to 11 pounds of TC senior in two meals with half a cup of canola oil in his last year and he did OK up to about January. But it is a real process when they lose their appetites and start to lose weight as you know. What we did was rotate around with the soaked alf cubes and free choice hay, keep the feed at room temp in the winter, warmed water in the winter, really keep an eye on the dentition, and sometimes they have a pasture accident and that is that.

My gelding is the opposite of yours, too heavy. I have been using the smartpak smart pituitary and have had success with it. I’m having less issues with laminitis and his coat is shedding. Prascend was helping but the two together are working better.

My 29 year old, is more on the heavy side. His Cushings is controlled with 1 1/2 tabs of Prascend. Since his glucose, lepitin and another test come back double from last test, I took him off smart pituitary and the magnesium supplement that smart pak recommended.

I had him on d-carb balance and that seemed to keep his numbers more stable.
He is only allowed on a semi dry lot for 2 hours a day. He gets 8-10 large flakes of soft orchard grass daily and he’s on triple crown lite.

Have you thought about adding some oil type fat to his diet? Flax, wheat germ, corn?

A friends 31 year old is super thin, she just added chopped forage not alfalfa based and no molasses and he’s starting to look a bit better.