Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS), an endocrine disorder resulting in the dysfunction of hormone production and regulation, has become all too common these days. This is likely due to several reasons, including modern horse management, increased environmental toxins, and the prevalence of high-NSC (non-structural carbohydrate) pasture grasses, which are more suitable for fattening up cattle. Some EMS conditions include Insulin Resistance (IR) and PPID (formerly known as Equine Cushing’s Disease) causes the horse’s pituitary gland, which utilizes hormones to control body functions, to work overtime. This can lead to a variety of problems for horses, ranging from unexplained laminitis to abnormal fat deposits.
EMS is most commonly seen in “easy keeper” breeds such as Morgans, Andalusions, Arabians, Paso Finos, ponies, miniature horses, and warmbloods, and research has shown that some breeds are at a higher risk for developing EMS due to genetic predisposition.
Horses with EMS often develop fat deposits (often along the crest, shoulders, loin, above the eyes, and around the tail head), insulin resistance, and a predisposition to laminitis. In fact, an episode of laminitis is often the first indicator that a horse may be dealing with EMS. Overweight horses are at increased risk of developing EMS, but not every EMS horse is necessarily overweight.
Diagnosing and Managing EMS
Because EMS affects a horse’s insulin levels, it can be diagnosed with simple blood tests performed by your veterinarian. Two inexpensive tests are currently recommended: the oral sugar test (most commonly used) and the insulin tolerance test.
Once a horse has been diagnosed with EMS, dietary and management changes will play a critical role in healing. First and foremost, the amount of sugars and carbohydrates (NSC’s) in the diet should be reduced in order to keep glucose levels down. A grass hay-based diet is best and grain should be taken out of the diet completely. However, pasture often poses the biggest threat to EMS horses, so depending on the severity of your horse’s condition, changes will likely need to be made as far as grazing goes. Prevention is paramount, so eliminating grazing all together may be the best solution.
Some other alternatives are:
- Restricting turnout to a dry lot or small paddock with little or no grass;
- Turnout limited to nighttime or early morning only (when sugar in grasses is lowest); or
- Using a grazing muzzle on normal pasture.
Hay should contain NSC levels below 12% (10% for more severe cases); however, the only way to know your hay’s NSC levels is by testing it. If you can’t test, soaking the hay for at least half an hour and then draining it can reduce NSC levels substantially.
Many holistic practitioners believe toxins (especially glyphosate) play a role in the development of EMS, so it would make sense to reduce your horse’s toxic load (i.e.—feeding organic or non-GMO feeds and hay). Detoxifying herbs or supplements can help as well.
- Osoleen Glucose Support: herbal formula designed to aid in resetting insulin metabolism by supporting healthy metabolic function;
- Organic Chasteberry Powder: herb which effectively supports the normal functioning of the pituitary gland, correcting hormonal disturbances;
- Super Mag Pro Powder: mineral essential for normal secretion of insulin and the uptake of glucose; helps break down fatty deposits common with EMS.
- Organic Icelandic Kelp: Our Sea Kelp is phenomenal for EMS horses. Kelp not only has ample iodine, which many metabolic horses are lacking, but it also helps regulate abnormal hormonal function commonly associated with EMS horses.
EMS can be quite serious, especially if left unchecked, but that doesn’t mean it has to be death sentence. If properly managed, many EMS horses can go on to enjoy long, happy lives.