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Equine Metabolic Syndrome

What Is EMS?

EMS (Equine Metabolic Syndrome) is becoming more and more common in horses. The underlying reason some horses develop EMS and others do not it still unknown. However, most horses diagnosed with EMS are obese with adipose tissue in the neck and the tail head. Another characteristic of EMS is high blood insulin levels which can lead to laminitis if not addressed quickly. Previously, horses that exhibited these signs were referred to as hypothyroidism, peripheral Cushing disease, prelaminitic syndrome, or Syndrome X. EMS replaces these earlier terms. EMS may be the end result of an inability to properly metabolize dietary carbohydrate.

Is my horse prone to developing EMS?

EMS is most common is horses that are “easy keepers” such as ponies, Tennessee Walking Horses, Morgans, and Quarter Horses. The naturally leaner breeds such as Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds are less likely to develop EMS. Diagnosis of EMS is performed from a blood sample administered to the lab. The test includes a clinical pathology to check Glucose, Lipemia, Hemolysis, and Icterus values, and an endocrinology to check ACTH, Insulin, Leptin, and T4 levels. If diagnosed in the early stages the disorder can usually be controlled successfully with diet and exercise changes and oral medications. The most serious effect of EMS, if it is not addressed quickly, is laminitis. Laminitis is the breakdown of the laminae and can cause rotation of the coffin bone.

How do I prevent/maintain EMS?

Keeping your horse at a healthy body condition is the best way to prevent EMS. However, if your horse has already been diagnosed with EMS, their sugar and carbohydrate intake need to be reduced to keep glucose levels down. Grass can be very high in sugar. Therefore, if the horse is out on a grassy pasture a grazing muzzle may be needed to decrease the intake. Sometimes diet changes are not enough, and the horse must be supplemented with medication. Unfortunately, an EMS horse can never be fully cured, but the disorder can be managed through proper nutrition and exercise. Work closely with your veterinarian and farrier to keep the horse maintained at a good weight and keep their feet in good shape.

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  • Penny King, Oblong IL

    I can’t say enough about Dr. Stone & his staff. They go above & beyond & take the extra mile to take care of your horses needs. They really care about what your horse really needs.

    They have been up all night with emergency colic surgery with a positive outcome. They saved a foal that was born three weeks early. I can’t even begin to tell everything we have been thru together. But I can tell you one thing, they don’t come any better than Dr. Stone & his staff. They are like family to our horses & us.”