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Cushing's Disease in Donkeys and Mules

Updated: Mar 4

Cushing's disease or PPID is very important for long ear owners to know about. Here's why..

Cushing's disease is a common hormonal disorder, that affects a gland in the brain called the pituitary gland. Elderly equines are far more prone to Cushing's disease than younger ones, but it has been known to occur in younger donkeys as well.

The exact cause of Cushing's Disease has not yet been determined however it does seem to become more severe with age. There is also a possibility that a donkey being overweight can predispose them to Cushing's disease.

Know The Signs

Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate your donkey has Cushing's Disease.

-A very thick and long coat even in summertime

-Excessive thirst and urinating

-Abnormal hoof shape

-A pot belly appearance and loss of muscle/ topline.

-Lethargy/ depression

-Chronic laminitis

-Compromised immune system


Your veterinarian will need to perform a simple blood test at a time when your donkey is not stressed or having any other health concerns. We recommend having your donkey tested every year from 15 years of age and on.

Donkeys should not be tested during a laminitic flare up as it will affect the results of the test. There are also times of the year that are not good to test because of the changing seasons and temperatures which may affect the blood test results.

If your donkey/ mule does test positive for Cushing's disease, don't panic! Though it is a life long treatment, they can still live a long and happy life with you. Many equines have come to us with Cushing's disease and have successfully been rehabilitated, placed in loving homes, and are still living happily ever after many years later.

The first step is to talk to your veterinarian about a treatment plan. You will need to have routine blood tests done until you get your equines ATCH levels where they need to be.

The treatment typically used is a drug called pergolide, which is marketed in the U.S. as 'Pracend.'

Did you know donkeys have different ATCH ranges than horses?

From November - June the range is 2.7 - 30.4

From July - October the range is 9.0 - 49.1

Since most donkeys are smaller than horses, the dose will need to be split and started VERY slowly. For miniature donkeys, we administer 1/2 tab every other day to start, as we've found it can be a very hard transition on their little bodies. Pracend tablets should not be split any smaller than in half or they won't be receiving a consistent dose. It's also very important to estimate your donkeys weight accurately to ensure they are receiving the correct dose. We suggest using a donkey weight tape for this, which is available on our online shop. We import these from The Donkey Sanctuary in the UK and have found them to be extremely helpful.

It is not uncommon for Pracend to put donkeys off of their feed when first starting treatment. It is extremely important to monitor your donkey's appetite for the first few weeks they are on the medication. You should call your vet right away if you have any concerns that your donkey may not be well. Donkeys and mules who do respond well to treatment (medication and diet change) should go on to have a much better quality of life and will be less prone to foundering, laminitis and other issues associated with Cushing's disease.


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