Equine Cushing's disease, or pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, is normally associated with older horses. As horses' life spans increase, more and more older horses are being diagnosed with Cushing's disease.
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The disease occurs in the pituitary gland, which is located at the bottom of the horse's brain.
The pituitary gland starts overcreating adrenocorticotropin. Because of too much adrenocorticotropin, the adrenal gland starts making too much cortisol, leading to hormone imbalances.
Horses with Cushing's usually develop a long haircoat that doesn't shed out during the summer. These horses also may have muscle atrophy and laminitis (hoof inflammation), and may be more vulnerable to infections.
Not Like Human Cushing's
In humans, the part of the pituitary gland in which the disease occurs is the anterior lobe of the gland, but in horses, it is the intermediate lobe.
Dianne McFarlane, DVM, Ph.D., has found in her research that equine Cushing's disease starts when the hypothalmus is no longer able to produce as much dopamine as it did earlier in the horse's life. (The dopamine controls secretion of pituitary hormones.)
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