Understanding Equine Insulin Resistance

Understanding Equine Insulin Resistance
Combating Equine Insulin Resistance

The years we’ve spent loving and caring for senior horses at Oak Haven Acres have taught us a treasure trove of lessons. We’ve discovered that horses have more in common with humans than we ever realized. Many of the diseases that plague people are also issues for the equines.

One of these health conditions that countless horses often face is diabetes. Veterinarians say that equines can develop diabetic symptoms just like humans and other mammals. However, the terminology is slightly different when describing the condition, symptoms, and treatments.

Understanding Equine Insulin Resistance

If you or a loved one have diabetes, you may have heard your healthcare providers call it “insulin resistance.” This same term is also used to describe equine diabetes. In the past, experts believed that insulin resistance symptoms in horses weren’t diabetes, but they believed it was a precursor to Cushing’s disease.

However, modern veterinarian research has established that horses can be insulin resistant without any developing Cushing’s. So now, you’ll hear folks in the equine community discussing their horses with diabetes, but it’s still a little different from the human form.

As the name suggests, horses with insulin resistance have an excess amount of insulin in their bloodstream, resulting in hyperglycemia. Your hooved friend may have human-like symptoms like frequent urination, excessive thirst, and increased appetite. They may be lethargic and in an almost depressive state.

Contact your vet for proper testing if you believe your horse is displaying insulin resistance. First, your vet will run tests to rule out any other metabolic conditions. Then, they will draw a bit of blood from the horse and analyze it for glycemic (blood sugar) levels. Your furry friend’s body may be making too much insulin, or their body is resisting the hormone or both.

How Does Your Horse Become Insulin Resistant?

Current research on equine insulin resistance is ongoing and isn’t as thorough as the research on human diabetes. For now, possible causation for horses is based on medical observation and speculation. However, vets have discussed the positive link between insulin resistance, overfeeding, and equine Cushing’s disease.

Research has also discovered that certain horse breeds may be predisposed to hyperglycemia. Species like Quarter horses, Appaloosas, and some draft cross breeds often develop it. Again, it remains speculation and has yet to be proven by solid research.

Ways to Help an Insulin-Resistant Horse

Each horse is different, and equine insulin resistance requires professional veterinarian care. However, there are some general guidelines about coping with this disorder that your vet may discuss. Here are some things to consider.

Dietary Changes

In the same way, doctors often counsel diabetic humans, one of the first steps your vet may suggest is for you to change your horse’s diet. They may ask you to keep a log for a few days to record when your horse eats and what they eat, including treats. After reviewing your entries, you may be surprised that your equine friend is having too much of a good thing.

One of your horse’s risk factors for insulin resistance may be that they’re overweight. Your vet may suggest changing or limiting regular feed, hay, or grain. It all depends on your horse’s eating habits and what can help them lose weight and possibly lower their blood sugar.


At Oak Haven Acres, we place great emphasis on exercise for our senior equines’ health, based on their abilities. Horses are strong, muscular creatures that naturally love to run for miles and frolic across plains and grassy meadows. They thrive on exercise, and their health and quality of life diminish if they spend too much time locked in a barn.

One of the best ways for your four-footed friend to get exercise is to schedule time for them to run in the pastures. They also get an effective workout when you ride them, depending on their age and health. Plus, riding your horse strengthens the bond of trust and friendship between you and them.

Most of our equine residents are seniors and have limited mobility. Your precious horse may be in the same situation. Although these seniors can’t be ridden, you can still walk them through the pastures or turn them out to graze and move at their own pace.

Evidence shows that regular exercise for your horse may help combat insulin resistance. Talk to your vet about a daily workout regimen that’s right for your horse. Diet plus exercise can lower their weight and strengthen their defenses against high blood sugar.

Reduce Stress Levels

Perhaps you’ve studied some research that links stress with human sickness and disease. Keeping your body in survival mode overloads it with stress hormones that can eventually damage it. Likewise, chronic pressure on horses can have serious health consequences, including insulin resistance.

Continually be aware of how your dear furry friend acts when stressed and what triggers it. Then, please do your best to rectify the situation, lower their stress levels, and boost their mental and emotional health.

Caring for Your Senior Horse

Oak Haven Acres Horse Farm in Spring Hope, NC, is a loving environment for retiring senior horses. Our caring and experienced staff give your equine friend the love and support they deserve in their golden years. Call us today to discuss how we can help your senior horse.

Phone: 252-478-5239 or 919-818-6241
515 Huford Harris Rd, Spring Hope, NC 27882, USA
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