Growing Problem: Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Laminitis

With diagnosed cases of Equine Metabolic Syndrome at an all time high, veterinarians and horse owners are looking for emerging technologies to make the fight against laminitis a fair one. Dr. Vernon Dryden, DVM, CJF, President of Bur Oak Veterinary & Podiatry Services, explains.  


Q: How big of an issue has Equine Metabolic Syndrome become in horses?

Dryden: Equine Metabolic Syndrome has become a huge issue for the equine population. We are now realizing that more horses are being diagnosed with Equine Metabolic Syndrome than once thought. It is a vastly growing problem. 


Q: What are some common signs of EMS that horse owners can look for?

Dryden: Your typical horse with Equine Metabolic Syndrome is going to develop fat deposition over the shoulders and over the tail head, and have a cresty neck. They are going to be what we would label as “easy keepers.” There are several breeds that are predisposed to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Those are: Quarter Horses, Arabians, Saddlebreds, Standardbreds, Friesians, and Warmbloods. So even if your horse doesn’t look like a typical ‘metabolic’ case, your horse may have early onset of insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. 


Q: How can we know for certain if a horse has EMS?

Dryden: Insulin levels in the blood is one of the major risk factors. There is a very close relationship between hyperinsulinemia--elevated levels of insulin in the blood--and laminitis. For many horse owners, their first introduction to this is when the horse becomes laminitic, and by that point, it is a very serious, and expensive, problem. Treating a horse for laminitis can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. What we need to do is have earlier detection and prevention of the disease.


Q: How is EMS diagnosed?

Dryden: Equine Metabolic Syndrome, historically, has been diagnosed by taking blood in a fasted state of the horse, and evaluating that blood. First, a vet will need to pull the blood from the horse. Then, you have to spin it down, freeze it, put it on dry ice and ship it overnight to a reputable lab facility. The lab will then test that sample, then send your results back. So you're looking at a minimum of about a week before you have any test results. 


Q: How does the Wellness Ready Equine Insulin Test improve this process?

Dryden: It's going to change the way that we practice for these metabolic horses. It's going to allow us to make decisions in real time and also identify horses that may not have been diagnosed otherwise. We can save a lot of lives and prevent a lot of cases of laminitis. 

Vern Dryden

Dr. Vern Dryden