Feeding the Horse with Cushings Disease

When managing a horse with Cushings Disease, it is crucial to manage their diet. A Cushings horse is predisposed to laminitis and a compromised immune system. A proper feeding program can help reduce the chance of laminitis, and at the same time provide a diet that is high in antioxidants, such as selenium, vitamin E, and vitamin C, which aids the immune system. While some horses with Cushings require medication, most can be managed with nutrition and exercise.

Feeding a Cushings Horsecushings 2

Since a Cushing horse is predisposed to laminitis it is very important to limit his NSC (non-structural carbohydrates) to 10-20% of his total diet. Hay and other fibrous feedstuffs should make up the majority of the horse’s diet. The typical horse eats between 1 ½ to 2% of his body weight in forage. So, the average 1,000-pound horse should be fed 15 to 20 pounds of hay per day. If your horse needs more energy to maintain a good body condition you should feed high-fat feeds or beet pulp. Avoid grains and feeds with molasses, which are high in NSC.

Choosing the Best Hay for Your Cushings Horse

When considering hay for your horse, it is important to recognize that some hays may contain high levels of NSC, depending on the species of grass and when and how it was harvested. In general, young plants are higher in sugar, whereas mid-bloom to mature grasses tend to be lower in sugar. Very mature plants typically have large amounts of indigestible fiber which can be hard for older horses with dentition problems to chew.

Grass hays average between 7 and 18% NSC. Warm season grasses, such as teff hay or Bermuda grass, tend to be lower in NSC. While cool season grasses, such as orchard grass or timothy, are typically higher in NSC.

Alfalfa averages 10-15% NSC, and oat hay is very high, averaging 22%.  Alfalfa can be a good option for a horse with Cushings if they are a hard time holding their weight, because it is more calorie dense than grass hay. However, if your horse with Cushings is on the heavier side, it is best to steer away from alfalfa hay because of the excess protein can be converted into sugar in the liver.

cushings 1If your Horse Needs More Calories than Just Hay

Some Cushings horses are more prone to being overweight, while others have a hard time holding a good body condition. If more calories are needed to maintain body condition, add feeds that are high in fat, such as flaxseed oil or extruded soybeans. Fat is very energy-dense, while providing little easily digestible starch which raises insulin levels in a Cushings horse.

Providing Supplements to Optimize Immune Function

Cushings horses have suppressed immune systems and therefore are prone to reoccurring infections. So, it is very important to supplement them with a complete vitamin-mineral supplement that provides them with antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as selenium, vitamins E, C and A help combat attacks on the body. Feeding a supplement like Horse Guard, which is only fed at 2 ounces a day provides the body the needed vitamins and minerals while adding very little to the overall NSC levels of the diet.

For the horse with Cushings that has a hard time maintaining weight consider supplementing with Super Weight Gain. Super Weight Gain contains a full dose of Horse Guard to help combat disease, a great prebiotic and probiotic package that helps your horse to get more out of his feed, and the base of cool energy from extruded soybeans to provide your horse energy from protein and fat.

Supplementing with 100% flaxseed oil, such as FLOW, can also help your Cushings horse by reducing the insulin spikes in the bloodstream. By lowering these spikes, it helps reduce the chances of laminitis developing.  Flaxseed oil also helps to reduce unwanted inflammation.

Overall nutritional plan for Your Cushings Horse

The goal is to build a diet for your horse that is low in NSC. Choose a hay that best suits your horse’s needs. For a horse that has a hard time maintaining weight, feed a warm season grass/alfalfa hay mix. A heavier horse will do better on a warm season grass hay.  Choose a great vitamin-mineral supplement, like Horse Guard, that will provide them with crucial antioxidants to optimize immunity without adding a lot of NSC to the overall diet. Provide your horse an Omega-3 fatty acid supplement, like Flaxen Flow, to help with inflammation and insulin control. For the horse that won’t maintain body condition on hay and a complete vitamin-mineral supplement and omega-3 supplementation alone, add concentrates that are high in fat and low in starch, such as extruded soybeans or oil, like Flaxen Glow or Flaxen Flow.

While some Cushings horses need medication, many can be managed with diet alone. Be sure to consult your veterinarian when developing the best overall health program for your horse and determine if medication is necessary. Following these steps will help you to decrease the chances of your Cushings horse developing laminitis and assure your horse lives the most comfortable life possible.

About Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

Kelsey J. Nonella, Ph.D. is an equine nutritionist who was riding horses before she could walk. Her love for horses drives her to help educate people on what their horses’ needs in order to have happy, healthy horses. Kelsey went to Cal Poly receiving a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Science and then onto West Texas A&M, where she got her Masters and eventually her Doctorates in Equine Science. At A&M, Dr. Nonella did extensive research on Selenium within horses. Click here to view her research. Kelsey’s colleagues have mentioned her as an one of the United States equine Selenium experts.
View all posts by Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

10 Responses to “Feeding the Horse with Cushings Disease”

  1. MaryAnn Marose says:

    Dear Dr. Kelsey…. I have a 14 year old Tennessee walking horse, who bare has the energy and/or comfort to do much walking period . I have tried for 10 years to manage My horse Eddie, but feel like I’am falling greatly. He receives Cushings medication once daily . He now is very sore from acquiring retracted soles. I soulfully believe My nutritional approach is greatly insufficient and near harmful. I dearly care about Him, I just feel confused and frustrated,to do the right management to help Him. I live in very Southern Illinois, hay is primarily of a rescue sorts , He receives no fresh grass. Kelsey I would be so thankful and grateful for any help , as to help Eddie Thank You MaryAnn

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:


      Thank you for the question. Sorry to hear about Eddie. I would recommend Mega Dose and Flow for him. Mega Dose will provide him with a great vitamin-mineral supplement to help aid his immunity and overall health; a great gut supplement with prebiotics, probiotics, and live yeast cultures to help him get the most out of the feed he is consuming; and a hoof supplement with 32 mg of biotin, which will help strengthen his feet and hopefully make him more comfortable as his feet grow out for the next 9-12 months. Flow is 100% flaxseed oil, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inflammation and blood sugar spikes in the body, which will be very helpful for Eddie.

      I hope this helps Eddie. Let me know if I can answer anymore questions. Good luck!

  2. Jodi says:

    I have a cushinoid 20 year old horse on prascend daily, pasture grass and purna wellsolve ls daily. He is very nervous and anxious. He has been exposed to everything in his life and just seeing a deer off in the distance or leaving his buddy for short periods will have him chewing at the bit and so worked up. Is therere a supplement that can help calm him. I have tried magnesium and tryptophan based supplements with no effect.

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:


      Thank you for the question. If he is in good weight the only thing I would recommend is replacing the purina wellsolve with Horse Guard. This is provide him with less calories and still provide a great vitamin-mineral supplement. Some horses, however, are just very reactive to everything. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

  3. Suzanne White-Nichols says:

    I have a 19 year old Paso Fino mare who is IR. Her diet consists of orchard and bermuda grass hay and 1/2 lb. of Timothy hay pellets to deliver her Platinum Performance Wellness supplement and Platinum Performance Metabolic supplement.
    Is she getting the vitamin and minerals she needs from the platinum Performance supplements? Is there more I could be supplementing her with.
    Thank you! I too am a Cal Poly grad!

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:

      Thank you for the question. If I were you, I would consider switching from the Platinum Performance Wellness to Horse Guard. The Horse Guard and the Platinum Metabolic supplement I think would be a great pair for your Paso Fino with IR. I would recommend switching from the wellness because Horse Guard provides higher levels of selenium which help with glucose metabolism. If you would like to read more about IR and selenium I have attached a link to an article I wrote. https://www.horseguard.com/horse-nutrition-and-supplement-blog/insulin-resistance-horses-selenium-deficiency/

      Let me know if I can answer anymore questions.

  4. Teresa says:

    I have a mini with cushings can I feed him flaxen flow and horse guard? If I can I will at one at a time but what would you start with?

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:


      Thank you for the question. Yes, you can feed him Flaxen Flow and Horse Guard. I would recommend starting with Horse Guard first. Just scale the dosage down to his size. So, if he weighs about 200 lb, then feed him a little less than 1/4 scoop.

      Let me know if I can answer any more questions.

  5. Ann Sampson says:

    I have been reading and researching. How important are Amino acids in a horse’s diet? Once I get started on the Horse Guard that I ordered, my horses will be getting 2 lb of Purina Senior daily, Vitex plus herbal mix for the cushings horse daily (from thehealingbarn.com), ActiFlex each daily, Cocosoya each daily. Does that seem to be a good mix? They also get a full 50 lb+ bale of good brome hay daily. More hay in colder weather at times. Thanks for your help and insight!

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:

      Thank you for the question. Yes, this sounds like a wonderful diet are your horses. Let me know if I can answer any more questions.

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