Equine Insulin Resistance


What is Equine Insulin Resistance?

Equine Insulin Resistance is a condition in horses that is very similar to type II diabetes in humans. Glucose, which is sugar, serves as the drive for many functions in the body and in response to high glucose levels, insulin is usually produced. Insulin’s primary function is to facilitate glucose levels in the blood which also relates to glucose uptake by cells and formation of fat. Equine Insulin Resistance occurs when there is a reduction in sensitivity to insulin that decreases the ability of glucose to be sent to the cells from the bloodstream.

Fatty deposits and a cresty neck are common signs of insulin resistance.

Fatty deposits and a cresty neck are common signs of insulin resistance.

Signs of Insulin Resistance

There are many signs of Equine Insulin Resistance in horses. The most common are the lethargy, weight gain, weight loss, muscle loss, lack of stamina, crusty neck, and the concentration of fat in areas such as the loin, behind the shoulder, and tail head. There is also significance in the relationship between Laminitis in horses and Insulin Resistance. With either Laminitis, or Insulin Resistance comes high risk for the other to eventually accompany.

It is important to note that while obesity and Insulin Resistance are often commonly present together, not all Insulin Resistant horses are obese and not all obese horses are Insulin Resistant.

Causes of Insulin Resistance

The causes for Equine Insulin Resistance are still unknown, but several possibilities exist. Diet and obesity tend to be at the top of the list with obese horses and those fed high levels of sugar and starch rather than fiber and far rations far more likely to acquire the disorder. Insulin Resistance is also far more prone to older horses and those with a family history of Laminitis.

Prevention of Resistance

If the horse tends towards obesity, formulate a balanced diet with low sugars containing primarily grass, or legume mix hay. Testing pastures and dry forages for the amounts of sugar present is also a good practice for prevention. It is important to note that the horse’s diet is the most important step is prevention and the prevention is always preferable to treatment.

Treatment of Insulin Resistance

Insulin Resistance in horses is best treated if the horse is obese by weight loss through exercise and diet. A minimum exercise of 30 minutes and the elimination of carbohydrates through less grains and sugar for the horse’s diet are good beginners. The best diet consists of warm season grasses such as Bermuda grass.

If dieting it can be very beneficial to include an adaptogen supplement in the horses diet.  One such supplement is APF Plus, an herbal supplement made up of a combination of 5 adaptogens.  APF was found in independent field trials reported in the October 2002 issue of Horse Journal to be very effective in managing both primary insulin resistance as well as secondary insulin resistance associated with Cushing’s disease.  In addition APF Plus has an anticatabolic effect in that it conserves skeletal muscle even when the subject is on a weight loss nutrition regime. There is little loss of muscle mass and a utilization of lipids.

Another good supplement for Insulin Resistant horses is Metaboleeze.  Metaboleeze lowers circulating levels of insulin, thereby improving insulin sensitivity. When used in conjunction with typical therapies (pergolide or cyproheptadine), evidence suggests that Metaboleeze corrects Insulin Resistance more rapidly.