Understanding Equine Metabolic Syndrome: A Basic Guide for Horse Owners – Part One

As horse owners, we are deeply invested in the well-being of our equine companions.  Being aware of the various conditions that can affect our horses is not easy.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome is one of those issues that can affect horses at any time in their lives, particularly as they get older.

EMS is a complex disorder that affects horses of all breeds and ages, but with proper management and awareness, its impact can be mitigated.

What is Equine Metabolic Syndrome?

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is a metabolic disorder characterized by a combination of obesity, insulin dysregulation, and susceptibility to laminitis. It is akin to metabolic syndrome in humans and shares similar risk factors and consequences.

The primary components of EMS include insulin dysregulation, obesity or regional adiposity/fatty deposits (particularly in the crest of the neck), and laminitis.

Understanding the Causes

The exact cause of EMS is multifactorial, but there are several key contributors that horse owners should be aware of.

Genetics plays a significant role, as certain breeds, such as ponies and some light horse breeds, are predisposed to developing EMS.

Additionally, dietary factors, including excessive consumption of sugars and starches, as well as limited exercise, can contribute to the development of EMS.

Environmental factors such as pasture quality and management practices also play a role in the onset and severity of EMS.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of EMS is crucial for early detection and intervention. Common signs of EMS include:

  1. Weight gain or obesity, particularly in the crest of the neck and around the tailhead.
  2. Insulin dysregulation, which may manifest as lethargy, excessive thirst, or increased urination.
  3. Laminitis or signs of foot tenderness, reluctance to move, or shifting weight between hooves.

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