Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a relatively common endocrinopathy (hormonal disorder) of horses characterized by a combination of clinical signs, including obesity, insulin resistance, abnormal fat deposits, and laminitis. It has been identified in a variety of breeds and ages, although it is most commonly seen in mature horses of easy-keeping breeds, such as ponies, draft horses, and certain warmbloods. EMS is thought to be caused by an imbalance in hormones, specifically insulin, and can lead to serious health issues if left untreated.
Signs and Symptoms of EMS
The most common signs and symptoms of EMS are obesity, abnormal fat deposits, laminitis, and insulin resistance. Horses with EMS tend to be overweight, with fat deposits around the neck, tail head, and sheath. They may also have cresty necks, pot bellies, and bulging fat deposits on the sides and over the withers. This excessive weight can cause laminitis, which is inflammation of the sensitive laminae tissue in the hoof. Insulin resistance, or the inability of the body to properly process and use insulin, is also associated with EMS.
Diagnosing Equine Metabolic Syndrome
In order to diagnose EMS, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, as well as draw blood for laboratory testing. The physical exam will assess your horse’s body condition and look for signs of obesity and laminitis. The laboratory tests will measure insulin, glucose, and other hormones in the blood. If the results of these tests indicate EMS, your veterinarian may recommend further tests to determine the severity of the syndrome.
Treatment of Equine Metabolic Syndrome
Once EMS is diagnosed, treatment should be aimed at reducing and managing the symptoms. The primary goal of treatment is to reduce the horse’s body fat and improve insulin sensitivity. This can be accomplished through dietary changes, exercise, and possibly medications. Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend supplements and other therapies to manage the symptoms of EMS.
Dietary Management of EMS
The most important factor in managing EMS is diet. The goal of the diet should be to reduce the horse’s intake of carbohydrates and sugars, while providing adequate calories and nutrition. This can be accomplished by feeding a low-sugar, high-fiber diet, such as grass hay, as well as a low-sugar, low-starch concentrate. Your veterinarian can help you select the appropriate diet for your horse.
Exercise for Horses with EMS
Exercise is also important for horses with EMS. Exercise can help to reduce the horse’s body fat and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. However, it is important to remember that horses with EMS should not be overworked. A regular program of moderate exercise, such as walking or light riding, is recommended.
Supplements and Medications for EMS
In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend supplements or medications to help manage the symptoms of EMS. These may include omega-3 fatty acids, chromium, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals. Additionally, insulin-sensitizing drugs such as metformin and pioglitazone may be prescribed.
Preventing Equine Metabolic Syndrome
The best way to prevent EMS is to ensure your horse has a healthy diet and adequate exercise. Horses should be fed a low-sugar, high-fiber diet, as well as a low-sugar, low-starch concentrate. Additionally, horses should get regular exercise, such as walking or light riding.
Additional Tips for Managing EMS
There are several additional tips to help manage EMS:
It is important to regularly monitor your horse’s weight, as obesity is a major factor in the development of EMS. Your veterinarian can help you determine your horse’s ideal weight and provide guidance on how to safely and effectively manage your horse’s weight.
Provide Regular Check-Ups
Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help to detect early signs of EMS. It is important to monitor your horse’s body condition, glucose levels, and any other changes that may indicate the onset of EMS.
Stress can have a negative effect on horses with EMS, so it is important to avoid stressful situations when possible. Additionally, it is important to provide your horse with a consistent and comfortable environment.
Manage Pasture Intake
If your horse is on pasture, it is important to manage his intake of grass. Horses with EMS should not be allowed to graze on lush, high-sugar pastures. Instead, they should be provided with a low-sugar, low-starch hay or an access to a low-sugar, low-starch pasture.
Equine Metabolic Syndrome is a common endocrinopathy of horses that can lead to serious health issues if left untreated. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of EMS, as well as to diagnose and treat the syndrome promptly. Treatment should include dietary changes, exercise, and possibly supplements or medications. Additionally, it is important to monitor your horse’s weight and provide regular check-ups with your veterinarian. By following these steps, you can help ensure your horse remains healthy and comfortable.