Horses and Insulin

Insulin is a natural hormone that regulates metabolism at the cellular level. Without insulin, our cells would not receive the nutritional energy needed to survive. 

Hey, that's great, the more insulin the better, right?

Not exactly. As with most aspects in life, too much of a good thing has the opposite effect. Excessive insulin production--known as hyperinsulinemia ("insulin resistance")--can have dire consequences. In horses, hyperinsulinemia is the primary risk factor for foundering, or laminitis, a degenerative inflammatory hoof condition that is the second leading cause of death in horses. 

Risk Factors

Some horses are genetically predisposed to hyperinsulinemia, and their insulin levels should be routinely monitored. Hyperinsulinemia is most common among Warmbloods, Arabians, Morgans, and ponies, though individual horses in any breed can experience hyperinsulinemia and be at risk of laminitis. 

Hyperinsulinemia is also associated with the endocrine disorders Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID) ["Equine Cushing's Disease"]. Horses with these conditions are susceptible to hyperinsulinemia-induced foundering and should receive routine insulin monitoring as a part of their wellness plan. 

Research studies also have determined that the risk for hyperinsulinemia and associated laminitis increases with aging. Insulin testing is becoming a routine component of annual wellness exams, particularly in horses 5 years or older. The Wellness Ready Insulin Test is identifying many horses with elevated insulin concentrations which would not have been suspected to be at risk of foundering due to their normal weight and body conditioning. With routine use of our convenient stall side insulin test, you and your veterinarian can reduce the risk that your horse will founder by regulating your horse's insulin levels through diet, exercise, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.

Another often overlooked risk factor for insulin-induced laminitis comes in the form of joint injections. A class of drugs named glucocorticoids, that includes triamcinolone and dexamethasone, are very routinely used in joint injections to reduce inflammation in joint tissues. However, glucocorticoids have been demonstrated to cause a spike in insulin levels that can lead a horse to rapidly develop a severe case of laminitis. Your veterinarian can now instantly test the insulin concentration of your horse prior to conducting joint injections and avoid the use of glucocorticoid drugs if your horse has hyperinsulinemia that may not have been apparent based on your horse’s body conditioning, breed or age.  

Talk to your veterinarian today to schedule your horse’s first Wellness Ready™ Equine Insulin Test and take control of your horse’s laminitis risk.