Disease Du Jour: Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Dr. Teresa Burns helps equine veterinarians help their clients better understand equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) in this episode of the Disease Du Jour podcast.

mule in stall
Mules, donkeys, American Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses and Welsh ponies have a genetic predisposition for EMS. Photos.com

“Owner understanding is important to compliance in dealing with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS),” said Teresa Burns, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM. She is an Associate Professor in Equine Internal Medicine in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University. “I like to bring it back to diabetes in people. Clients usually have diabetes in a friend or their family circle.”

While there are big species differences, she said that using something clients can relate to and understand helps when trying to successfully manage the condition.

Risk Factors of EMS

In this podcast, Burns talks about the “constellation” of risk factors and issues associated with EMS. She also talks about the pros and cons of several tests used to determine a diagnosis of EMS in a horse.

She noted that what can be changed to help a horse with EMS is environmental modifications and diet. She said veterinarians should realize that some of these changes can make owners unhappy. “If the horse is permanently off pasture, the owner is upset,” she said.

Burns said if the horse is losing weight and its insulin test improves—it’s meeting benchmarks—then you can “cautiously” reintroduce a horse to pasture. “That’s good for self-directed exercise as well as social engagement,” said Burns.

She also noted that there are strong genetic predispositions in some breeds of horses. Those include donkeys and mules, American Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walking Horses and Welsh ponies.

“You need to help owners understand in these predisposed breeds they can have insulin resistance (IR) even if they are not obese,” noted Burns.

Burns talked about motivating horse owners to monitor their own horses, teach them body condition scoring and how to take digital pulses. “Deputize them,” said Burns. “

She admitted chronic disease such as EMS, IR or even chronic laminitis is not exciting, and that makes it hard to create urgency with some clients.

Burns also talked about medications that can be used and how they work in EMS cases.

Topics covered in this podcast:

  • How vets can best describe EMS to their clients
  • How to determine insulin dysregulation
  • Are some horses more prone to EMS than others?
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Prevention

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