Equine Metabolic Syndrome: A Growing Concern for Veterinarians and Horse Owners
Obesity in people and small companion animals, including dogs and cats, is linked to chronic conditions and illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. What many people may not realize is obesity-related disease is a problem for our horses, too, particularly in the form of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).
Horses today tend to lead a less active lifestyle than in previous centuries. In addition, more of their daily diet is provided by high-quality hay and complete horse feeds, which translates into more calories and higher levels of dietary carbohydrates. With less exercise and more fattening feed, the prevalence of equine obesity is increasing – estimates are as high as 50 percent of the horse population.
These overweight horses can suffer from many health problems, including orthopedic issues, reproductive abnormalities, and equine metabolic syndrome. The syndrome is characterized by three components: increased fat deposition in a specific location or generalized; predisposition to laminitis, a painful condition of the hoof; and, importantly, insulin resistance.
Insulin is released into the blood stream in response to increased blood sugar, and helps glucose enter into cells where it’s used for energy. When insulin resistance develops (as can happen with obesity) more insulin is required to move the same amount of glucose into cells. Insulin resistance is found not only in equine metabolic syndrome, but other diseases such as Type 2 diabetes mellitus in humans and iron storage disease in rhinoceros.
Morris Animal Foundation has been funding equine health research for more than 50 years, including studies focused on equine metabolic syndrome. In the last decade, the Foundation has invested more than $1 million in 12 studies addressing EMS, including genetics of disease susceptibility, development of EMS, and new treatments.
Through these studies and others, the Foundation is helping horses have longer, healthier lives. Your gifts help make this work possible!
While understanding and developing treatments for EMS is critical to equine health, horse owners and herd managers can help prevent the development of EMS with healthy lifestyle choices:
- Keep horses trim and give them plenty of opportunities for exercise
- Start sedentary horses with 20 to 30 minutes of activity two to three times per week, and gradually build intensity and duration
- Feed higher-fiber, lower-digestibility diets; avoid long stays on lush pastures