Equine Metabolic Syndrome – What is it?

You may have heard of Equine Metabolic Syndrome or ‘EMS’ before, it has only really been recognised as a syndrome for the past ten years although horses have been suffering with it for a lot longer, as the way we keep horses has changed over time. We also have a much better understanding of laminitis now and EMS is known to be one of the most common causes of laminitis.

EMS is a medical problem described in horses that have obesity (this may be generalised or regional e.g. localised fat pads) and have a predisposition to laminitis due to a problem with the way their body handles insulin. This can be likened to type II diabetes in humans.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that control the body’s blood sugar levels and keep them at a safe level. Horses that have EMS aren’t able to respond appropriately to insulin and therefore blood sugar is not processed properly leading to dangerously high levels even if the horse doesn’t eat a particularly high sugar diet. Exactly how the problems with insulin cause laminitis is a major area of veterinary research at the moment and we are still unsure on the exact mechanism of how this happens although one theory is that that the high blood sugar may affect blood flow to the feet.

Any horse can suffer from EMS but is it thought that dartmoors, welsh ponies, arabs, warmbloods and shetland ponies are more at risk.

EMS can be diagnosed through a blood test and an examination by a vet. The first line treatment for this condition is strict diet and exercise. It may seem harsh to restrict your horse’s access to grass but often when we are dealing with EMS this is a much kinder option than risking laminitis which can be an extremely painful and sometimes fatal condition, often involving intense management and veterinary treatment. In some cases where strict dietary management under veterinary supervision has been attempted and failed medical options are available.

Monitoring your horse’s weight is really important and going towards winter now is the time we should all be thinking about letting our horses lose some weight which is a natural mechanism that horses and ponies have evolved with to prevent them getting laminitis in the spring. If you would like any help or advice managing your horse’s weight we do recommend regular weigh-ins, the best way to do this is for us to bring our weigh bridge out to your yard. We can also provide a more bespoke advice service if required.

Hope you have found this weeks blog helpful and have a lovely weekend with your horses! Jess Timmins x