by Nina Arbella
(Please note that we're calling this a "cure," but it's really just a great treatment that we discovered for Equine Cushings disease. We're not vets, we're just observant horse people who want to help other horse owners who want to learn about helping horses with equine cushings. Call 978-897-8866 for information on purchasing our supplement for Equine Cushings.)
See also our Frequently Asked Questions on the Equine Cushings Cure.
Equine Cushings disease is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the production and regulation of hormones. Symptoms include a long, shaggy coat that does not shed, excessive drinking and urination, laminitis, a tendency for recurring infections in the hoof (foot abscesses), and a loss of muscle mass, especially along the topline and rump.
A "Cure?" for Equine Cushings Disease?
At Eye of the Storm Equine Rescue, we’ve discovered what appears to be a cure for Cushings disease in horses. We’re not licensed nor are we doctors, but we know what has worked for our horses and for lots of others, so we wanted to share our experiences in case it helps cure your own horse of equine Cushings disease.
While looking through a nutritional healing book at Debra’s Natural Gourmet in West Concord, Mass., I came across a sentence that said “Chasteberry feeds the pituitary gland.” Chasteberry in recent times has been used mainly for “women’s complaints.” I know it works because it beats the crap out of PMS, you feel better in 20 minutes. “Hmm,” I say, “I like chasteberry, let’s see what it can do for our two Cushings horses.”
Bess - A Shetland with Equine Cushings
Bess, our 26 year old Shetland had obvious symptoms: long hair that didn’t shed and she was a sway back. Not as bad as some, but still obvious. I couldn’t wait for the vet to take some blood to find out her “numbers.” The results were positive for equine Cushings. I put her on one teaspoon twice a day, three weeks on and one week off. Though she began to shed her coat of “buffalo” hair almost immediately, she never was a very slick pony. But I was determined to keep her on the chasteberry one year before testing her blood again. If I saw results then, I would tell the world.
One year later, after Bess’ test results came back, the vet said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep on doing it.” Bess’ numbers were down 33 points! I don’t know exactly what these numbers represent, but evidently this never happens in real life! After one year of feeding her pituitary gland, had I managed to reverse her equine Cushings disease? I was very excited as this ailment affects the lives of millions of old (and not so old) horses in so many negative ways. This disease is more common now than it has ever been in the past. No one really knows why, though I have my theories. That is another tale for another day.
Chasteberry for Equine Cushings
I was getting whole chasteberry in one pound bulk bags from Natural Gourmet and running it through a coffee grinder. The seeds are very hard and I figured it would come out the other end the same way they went in, unless we knocked the shells off them. You run the grinder until most of the pinging of hard berries can’t be heard anymore. You cannot grind them up completely, but that’s okay. Horses are made to digest roughage. They handle the chunks just fine. You should have a grinder for this purpose only, as your coffee might taste funny if you use the grinder for both.
Right around the time I was ready to tell the world about this “equine cushings cure,” another product came on the market called Hormonize. It is a liquid and costs around $45 per liter and lasts two weeks for your average size horse. That’s $90 per month to treat the horse. The developers of this product found it to be effective not only on mares in heat, but it also did some impressive things for Cushings horses, too. It is sold for this purpose as well. It is an all natural herbal remedy. A bit pricey, though.
I checked out the ingredients. It is a tincture of chasteberry! I think they call it vitex or monks pepper on the back. I’m not sure. It greatly saddens me that the treatment for such a devastating disease sells for so much.
Horses don’t need herbal tinctures. They can and do digest some pretty coarse stuff (have you ever tried to eat dry timothy hay?). They can not only digest the herb, but utilize it in that form beautifully.
Bess, unfortunately, died at age 28 when she decided her mission was accomplished, so we never got a third blood test from her. We have two other Cushings horses, and all of our older mares are on chasteberry as well. Junebug, who is 8 years old, was tested last year and we’ll test her again soon to see where her numbers are. Snowdrop was never tested, but all her symptoms have disappeared and she is doing well at 24 years old.
The Equine Cushings "Cure" Recipe
If any of you out there would like to try chasteberry, here’s what to do. Go to your local health food store and special order one pound bulk bag whole chastetree berry from the Frontier herb company (please mention Eye of the Storm Equine Rescue when you do). You might want to order more than one bag so that when you’re down to one you can reorder. One bag will cost you less than $20 and will last a couple of months per horse.
Run the berries through your coffee grinder and feed one teaspoon twice a day with feed. We give the same amount to horses and ponies. It works on both mares and geldings. Give it to them three weeks on and one week off all year round. It will even keep the mares from being quite so crabby in the spring.
We also give them all vitamin E in the evening, vitamin C in the morning, and MSM. No sugars or carbohydrates (not even a carrot). There are feeds out there that are low in both, such as Blue Seal Racer and some of the senior feeds (do some research). All in all, chasteberry is the answer. Even our two 30-year old mares don’t have equine Cushings, only Bess, Junebug, and Snowdrop, who came to us with the disease and it appears to be reversed. I never had horses of my own get Cushings. I have every horse in town that has Cushings on chasteberry and they’re all doing great! This is a cheap, easy, healthy remedy for Equine Cushings disease.
Frequently-Asked Questions on Equine Cushings
Q: Should I shoe my Cushings horse to make him more comfortable?
A:. If your horse has Laminitis a knowledgeable and experienced farrier who specializes in corrective shoeing may be able to, not only make your horse more comfortable, but can possibly save it’s life. If your farrier can not do this he can refer you to one of his colleagues who can.
Remember all cases are different. It took 2 years for our farrier to realize that Snowdrop needed her shoes to not put pressure on the walls of her hoof but could tolerate a fair amount on her soles, so her pads are adjusted accordingly. This could change at any time as new laminae grow out from the coronary band and the connective tissues strengthen. A good farrier will stay on top of things and tweak this or that as he gets to know our horse better. Be prepared to pay for the best. In the long run it will be worth it and may return your horse to reasonable soundness.
Remember it takes 1 year to grow out a new hoof. It is possible that it may take at least 2 years for a hoof to begin to look normal again, if ever. Be prepared also to deal with abbesses, as that dead tissue will seek a way out of the hoof capsule and your horse will be very lame until they burst. The horse will then experience instant relief. Just ride these episodes out. They will pass.
Q: My horse has a very heavy hair coat, and sweats in even below freezing temps, should I clip him?
A: I have to tell you, I just don’t know. I have no experience with this. In summer by all means clip him. I suggest you check out an “equine Cushings chat site” and ask what others have done. I would think if you could somehow clip him and leave 2 inches of hair on in the winter that would be good. Feeding Chaste tree berry ( also known as Vitex) will often make a horse begin to shed within days or it won’t happen until normal shedding season in the spring. In our experience it always does happen eventually, though Bess, our 28 year old Shetland never was really slick, we didn’t have to clip her even in summer. Again, every case is different. Seek knowledge. There are lots of people out there who know.
Q: How much Chaste tree berry should I feed?
A: We give 1 level teaspoon 2 X’s a day to our 550 lb. Shetland and 1 slightly heaping teaspoon 2X’s a day to 750 lb. Snowdrop. This is based on whole berries in which you grind yourself. If you purchase the powdered form use slightly less. We also give all our older mares the same as Snowdrop though they don’t have equine Cushings. It makes them happier during their heat cycles and less fussy. I also feel that it’s possible to prevent Cushings by starting early, maintaining good pituitary function with Chaste tree berry. It seems to be okay to use on male horses too. We have done so and the boys have done well.
Q: Can I feed my breeding stallion Chaste tree berry?
A: It’s your call. Im not sure I would continue to breed a Cushings horse. Is it hereditary? Does anyone know? Another name for chaste tree berry is “monks pepper”. Supposedly monks used it to curb their libido. Does it work that way? Some studies show it does not. If it was my stallion I would feed it to him. The pituitary is the master gland which balances the endocrine system which includes the thyroid, adrenal, thymus and sex organs. The most important thing is to improve this horse’s life.
Q: I’ve heard alfalfa was unsafe to feed to Cushings/Laminitic horses, yet you feed it in your “diet”, why is that?
A: There are all kinds of reasons that I’ve read that alfalfa is bad. Too much protein, certain chemicals that cause certain negative things to happen in a horse’s body, etc. but what I have also learned is that there is more positive reasons to feed small amounts. Too much of anything is bad, including alfalfa. It is so full of trace minerals, not to mention Beta Carotene, which is a major component needed for healthy hoof growth. We have been feeding Snowdrop 1 Quart of alfalfa cubes (Purina) soaked in 1 gallon of water once/day for 3 years. Though her hooves are very deformed (her coffin bones almost point backwards!) She has not re-Foundered in a year and a half. I feel alfalfa has aided in her recovery. Remember small amounts only. I would not feed this to small overweight ponies though. Definitely too many calories! If you are concerned, please ask your vet.
Q: What about magnesium?
A: This is probably the second most important ingredient in the “Equine Cushings diet.” I forgot to mention it in the newsletter. Magnesium helps utilize carbohydrates and helps break up those fatty deposits (cellulite) that form on the crests, tail heads, above the eyes, etc. It also aids in muscle function. We use Twin Labs 400 mg. capsules, 1 capsules per 150 lb. body weight. This stuff is very inexpensive and can be purchased at any health food store. Just open the capsules and pour in to the feed. Horses know they need it and eat it right up! Give it to him/her once a day.
Q: Why feed them brewer’s yeast?
A: There are many reasons; it keeps the gut flora healthy and it is full of B vitamins which feeds and repairs the nervous system. Biotin is a B vitamin found in brewer’s yeast and is a very important nutrient used in hoof growth formulas. They charge a lot of money for it as well. Save your money and feed your horses brewer’s yeast. Do not feed it if your horse has any respiratory problems like heaves or seasonal allergies. If he’s allergic to mold, he will probably be allergic to yeast.
Q: Can I feed Chaste tree berry while using Pergolide?
A: I have never used Pergolide. I do hear that it can cause liver damage with extended use. I do know someone who has her pony on both and after 2 years (!) The pony is doing just fine. I have suggested that the pony be taken off Pergolide, as she probably doesn’t need it anymore, but should have a blood test from her vet if her owner is concerned.
Q: What is Chaste tree berry and why does it work so well?
A: Also known as Vitex and Monks pepper. While researching Cushings disease in humans and natural cures, I came across this sentence. “Chaste tree berry feeds the pituitary”. Down through history it has mostly been used for women’s complaint and it’s other uses have been lost in obscurity, but that one little sentence set me on a path that has helped improve the lives of so many horses.
Q: I called Frontier herb and when I asked for Chaste berry they didn’t know what I was talking about.
A: My mistake, it is Chaste tree berry, Chaste tree or Vitex agnus castus.
Q: How much Vitamin E, Vitamin C and MSM do I feed?
A: According to dosage on the labels.
Q: What causes Cushings disease?
A: I believe that in most cases it is an autoimmune disorder. We are over vaccinating all our companion animals. As of last count the drug companies were encouraging us to give eight different vaccines per year and one of those 4 times a year!!! Horses have spectacular immune systems. Proper feed, good friends and a natural healthy lifestyle goes a long way in keeping our horses going strong to a ripe old age.
Q: Why did my Cushings horse Founder?
A: There has been loads of research done, brain-storming seminars and lots of ideas, but the bottom line is, no one really knows. The “perfect”design of the equine hoof is awe inspiring. It does not seem possible that Laminitis can occur. There is a wrongness about it and I feel that the answer is close. Let’s pray that someone figures it out soon. All we can do is tr eat the symptoms in the meantime, we’re all in the dark.
Q: If you don’t vaccinate your horses, how do you keep them from getting sick?
A: We do vaccinate for rabies. Since a rabid skunk got in with our pig last summer, we decided that was a real threat, but we will do Titers this year before re-vaccinating them. What about the rest? We feed Pau d’arco. It’s a very inexpensive immune booster. Whether is actually kills parasites or gives the immune system what it needs to kill them, I don’t know but it seems to work for us. We also feed Vitamin E and Vitamin C and MSM. for Czardas’ hoof canker we feed grapefruit seed extract. These supplements are healthy “food” which feed the body and help keep it strong and healthy.
Q: Where can I get these products?
A: Pau d’arco and Chaste tree berry you can order from Frontier Herbs, or a local health food store can order them for you. Call 800-669-3275 and open an account. You save 10% over retail prices when you join and become a member which costs only $10. Not a bad deal.
-Vit. C, Vit. E, MSM are expensive supplements and very important. They can be purchased from any equine supply catalog or from your local feed or tack shop.
-Magnesium is very important. We use Twin Labs, human grade 400 mg. capsules from any health food store .
-Alfalfa cubes (soak 1 qt. in 1 gal. water once/day) Purina, any feed store, any other brand will do as well.
Q: Why do you feed Chaste tree berry one week off?
A: We feel that given consistently causes the body to get too used to it and it might possible become less efficient. That week off is not so long that the pituitary can go out of balanced again but enough time to still be efficient. Here again it works for us so that’s what we do.
If you have any equine cushings questions for us, please email us. Nina Arbella is available for scheduled phone consultations on equine cushings and other topics. Please call for an appointment. We ask for a tax-free donation in exchange for her time.
Phone: (978) 897-8866