Hyperlipaemia is an important condition in ponies, not just because of the seriousness of the clinical signs and biochemical changes involved, but because of the distress it causes owners and breeders that have had animals suffer from it. Hyperlipaemia occurs most commonly in fat ponies in late pregnancy and is rarely seen in larger horses. The syndrome has similarities with conditions in other species but the definitive aetiologies are not yet known. The condition in ponies is undoubtedly related to stress. The biochemical mechanisms involved in equine hyperlipaemia are considered and an hypothesis of possible pathogenesis is put forward. This hypothesis is tested by presenting the results of a preliminary study to evaluate glucose and lipid metabolism in horses and ponies. It appears that the pony is markedly insensitive to insulin compared to larger horses which means that triglycerides are more readily mobilised and the animal is therefore susceptible to hyperlipaemia in a situation of negative energy balance. The effect of stress is to increase cortisol levels which only exacerbates the insulin insensitivity and so creates a vicious circle. The importance of an innate insulin insensitivity may also be important in the pathogenesis of such conditions as laminitis.
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