Equine Metabolic SyndromeBY KATJA PORENTA


Similar to diabetes in humans, Equine metabolic syndrome or EMS has become an increasingly greater concern for horse owners. The incurable disease that is characterised by fat deposits coupled with altered insulin dynamics is one of the most prevalent causes of laminitis, a debilitating condition that can result in the horse having to be put down. Given how serious and how common the condition is, there is currently a lot of research going into finding out what exactly causes the disease and how to prevent it.


There are a lot of factors that predispose the horse to EMS. Some of them are genetic (breeds like Morgan horses and ponies are more prone to it) while others are environmental (like diet and exercise) and the onset of the disease can often be season dependant. The severity and occurrence of EMS is highly variable and sometimes can’t be explained by genetic or environmental factors. In other words, some horse owners are doing everything they can to take good care of their horses but they still end up with an EMS diagnosis. This means there must be factors influencing the onset of the disease that we are currently not recognizing.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)


A team of researchers at The University of Minnesota, funded by Morris Animal Foundation set out to shed some light on those mysterious factors. They conducted a study linking endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to the development of EMS. EDCs are chemicals, commonly found in everyday objects like plastic, pesticides and personal care products. As the name suggests, they have a negative influence on the function of the endocrine system. The substances enter the body and mimic their own hormones, effectively blocking the real hormones from binding to their receptors and doing their jobs. EDCs have been linked to metabolic syndrome and other endocrine abnormalities in humans, so it is very plausible that that is the case with horses too. Horses typically come in contact with EDCs in their man-made environment, where exposure to plastics and pesticides is very common.


To see if there is a link between EMS and EDCs in horses, the researchers used 300 Morgan horses and Welsh ponies from 32 different farms. They measured the EDCs concentration in plasma and tested the horse’s blood for EMS and compared the results to see if there is a correlation. They also collected detailed data on the horse’s diet, illness, exercise and location. The team concluded that the accumulation of EDCs in the horse’s body could explain some of the variance seen in diagnosed animals, but the precise relationship between EMS and EDCs is not yet clear. Further research needs to be carried out to see how significant the association is and what steps can be taken to prevent EDCs accumulation in the body.

Follow this link to the full study if you are interested in reading more.