Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Horse with ems

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is characterized by three main features: obesity or regional adiposity (accumulation of fat in certain areas, particularly the neck), insulin resistance (IR) a “pre-diabetic” like state, and laminitis in horses and ponies. 

EMS likely begins with a genetic pre-disposition.  Certain breeds or individual horses are predisposed and often referred to as “easy keepers” by their owners.  These horses are very efficient at utilizing calories and often require a lower plane of nutrition to maintain body weight than other horses, which is why EMS is a metabolic disorder.   Laminitis (or “founder”) is a devastating feature of EMS.  Laminitis is a painful and debilitating disease of the digital laminae (the tissue inter-connection between the coffin bone and hoof wall).  Often by the time clinical signs are recognized, crippling body changes such as sinking and rotation of the coffin bone have occurred.  Although there are several inciting causes of laminitis, the most common form of the disease is “grass founder” which occurs in horses and ponies kept on pasture.  An interesting feature of the disease is that in any given population of horses or ponies, certain individuals are susceptible to laminitis while others of the same breed, sex, and age managed in the same circumstances do not develop the disease.

Environmental factors play an important role, with cases typically occurring during periods of rapid pasture growth.  However the differences in susceptibility among horses managed in the same conditions may be a result of an underlying genetic predisposition.  It is our goal to determine the genetic role in this devastating disease which affects a large number of horses.  However, in order to achieve this goal, we need the help of horse owners to accumulate data on as many horses with EMS as possible.  By assisting in our project, you will provide us with information essential to further understanding EMS and ultimately determining ways to better manage EMS. 

Click “Get Involved in Research” to learn more about our project and how you can become involved

*Reference: ACVIM Equine Metabolic Syndrome Consensus Statement

*This project was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
competitive grant no. 2009-55205-05254 from the USDA National Institute of
Food and Agriculture Animal Genome Program.

*Funding also provided by Morris Animal Foundation and Pfizer Animal Health.