How to Identify and Manage Insulin Resistance in Horses

Recognizing key indicators can decrease the risk of laminitis

Insulin resistance, insulin dysfunction and equine metabolic syndrome are among a collection of rapidly increasing endocrine conditions affecting the horse population in the United States today

Insulin resistance (IR) occurs when cells become resistant to the action of the insulin secreted by the horse’s pancreas, leading to higher blood glucose levels. The glucose secretion is the body’s attempt to lower blood glucose, thereby causing increased blood insulin levels. Some of the excess blood glucose is stored as glycogen in muscle and liver or converted to adipose tissue. Excess blood glucose is also excreted by the kidneys into the urine.

Insulin dysregulation occurs in horses that cannot regulate blood insulin levels. Equine metabolic syndrome often results from insulin-related dysfunction in horses and is characterized by three components: insulin dysregulation, observable obesity or localized fat deposits, and a high risk of or a documented instance of laminitis.

Farrier Takeaways

  • Insulin-resistant horses are overweight or obese with a body condition score greater than six. They can have abnormal fat deposits along the neck crest, tail head, sheath and mammary gland.
  • The ideal diet for an insulin-resistant horse should be forage-based and low in sugar.
  • One in five horse owners has never heard of insulin resistance or equine metabolic syndrome.

With an estimated 50% of the United States horse population overweight,1 managing insulin-related pathologies is a growing concern among horse owners and equine professionals alike. Fortunately, recognizing key indicators of IR, educating horse owners and implementing effective management techniques can decrease the risk…

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Jessica Lash

Jessica Lash is an Indiana-based freelance writer, dedicated barrel racer, and lifelong horse enthusiast

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