Risk Factors for Equine Metabolic SyndromeBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 2, 2017
Equine metabolic syndrome, or EMS, is a term that refers to a set of factors including obesity, insulin resistance, and a tendency toward laminitis. Because laminitis causes intense pain and often signals the end of a horse’s useful life, it would be helpful if owners were aware of signs and risk factors for EMS in its beginning stages. Detected early, EMS might be managed to minimize the likelihood that a horse would actually develop laminitis.
Clinical signs such as abnormal lipid and insulin levels can be found only by having a veterinarian draw a blood sample for analysis. However, some physical signs and characteristics can be seen by owners. These include obesity or a high body condition score; a cresty neck, even if the horse’s body does not appear excessively fat; little or no exercise; previous bouts of laminitis; and a high intake of forage and/or grain. Many cases of EMS are seen in horses that have finished growing but are not very old, approximately 5 to 8 years of age. Ponies and horses from heavier-bodied breeds are diagnosed with EMS more frequently than lighter-built equines.
Owners who see one or more of these signs in their horses should recognize that equines with these characteristics may be at higher risk of laminitis than those in the general population. Checking with a veterinarian is a good idea, as this professional can use the results of blood tests and a physical examination to help diagnose EMS.