Clinical signs and risk factors for equine PPID (Cushing’s Disease)


Reasons for performing study: Equine pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) is an ageing-related neurodegenerative disorder. The prevalence and risk factors for PPID using seasonally adjusted basal adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) concentrations in aged horses have not been previously reported.

Objectives: To determine the prevalence, risk factors and clinical signs predictive for PPID in a population of horses aged ≥15 years in Queensland, Australia.

Methods: Owner-reported data was obtained using a postal questionnaire distributed to an equestrian group. A subgroup of surveyed owners were visited and a veterinary physical examination performed on all horses aged ≥15 years. Blood samples were analysed for basal plasma alpha melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) and ACTH concentrations, routine haematology and selected biochemistry. Aged horses with elevations above seasonally adjusted cut-off values for basal plasma ACTH were considered positive for PPID. Positive horses were compared with their aged counterparts to determine risk factors and clinical signs associated with PPID.

Results: Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction was prevalent in aged horses (21.2%) despite owners infrequently reporting it as a known or diagnosed disease or disorder. Numerous clinical or historical signs were associated with an increased risk of PPID in the univariable model, but only age (odds ratio (OR) 1.18; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.11–1.25, P<0.001) and owner-reported history of hirsutism (OR 7.80; 95% CI 3.67–16.57, P<0.001) remained in the final multivariable model. There were no routine haematological or biochemical variables supportive of a diagnosis of PPID.

Conclusions and potential relevance: Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction occurs commonly in aged horses despite under-recognition by owners. The increased risk of PPID with age supports that this is an ageing associated condition. Aged horses with clinical or historical signs consistent with PPID, especially owner-reported hirsutism (delayed shedding and/or long hair coat), should be tested and appropriate treatment instituted.

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