What is it?
Equine Metabolic Syndrome is very similar to Type 2 human diabetes and it manifests as a reduced sensitivity of the body to the hormone insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for the uptake of glucose (sugars) from the bloodstream into the tissues. In Equine Metabolic Syndrome, due to the reduced activity of Insulin, blood glucose levels increase.High levels of blood glucose then trigger an over production of insulin (hyperinsulinemia).
Equine Metabolic Syndrome is characteristic of obese ponies, often showing fat deposits on the crest of neck, on the shoulders and at the base of the tail. It mostly affects young to middle aged equines and is most common in native type pony breeds. This is because they have evolved to survive in harsh conditions with poor quality pastures and do not cope well with a high calorie intake provided by a lush pasture or feeding of concentrates.
Most commonly, animals are tested following bouts of laminitis or inability to achieve weight loss. A starved blood test, pre and post glucose, is required to determine the blood levels of glucose and insulin.
Management is essential: regular exercise and a low calories diet are most effective in achieving weight loss. A drug called Metformin may help to reduce glucose absorption from the guts, particularly after feeding. However, the bioavailability of metformin is very limited in horses (7%) and therefore only helps in some cases.