What Is Equine Cushing’s Syndrome

Equine Cushing’s Syndrome (ECS), also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), is an endocrine disorder predominantly affecting older horses. Recognizing the importance of awareness, we at FarmLab Diagnostics aim to guide horse owners through understanding the causes, diagnosis, and management of ECS.

What Causes ECS?

At the core of ECS is a dysfunction in the pituitary gland’s pars intermedia. This dysfunction leads to an overproduction of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn causes the adrenal glands to produce excessive cortisol. This hormone imbalance manifests in symptoms such as hirsutism (a long, curly hair coat), increased thirst and urination, laminitis, and muscle wasting.

Diagnosing ECS

The key to diagnosing ECS lies in measuring plasma ACTH levels, which can vary seasonally. Here’s what the process involves:

  • Clinical Examination: Vets look for symptoms like unusual hair growth, increased thirst and urination, and signs of laminitis.
  • ACTH Measurement: A blood sample is collected to check ACTH levels. Handling and timing are crucial, as samples should be cool and tested considering seasonal ACTH fluctuations.
  • Interpreting Results: Results are compared against seasonally adjusted reference ranges to confirm ECS.

Managing ECS

Though ECS is chronic, effective management is possible through:

  • Medications: Pergolide mesylate is commonly used to regulate pituitary function.
  • Diet: A low sugar and carbohydrate diet helps manage insulin resistance.
  • Exercise: Regular activity is encouraged to maintain muscle tone and manage weight.
  • Regular Monitoring: Ongoing veterinary check-ups and ACTH tests are essential to adapt the treatment plan as needed.
  • Hoof Care: Regular care from a professional farrier helps manage laminitis risks.

With early diagnosis and proactive management, horses with ECS can enjoy a good quality of life. At FarmLab Diagnostics, we are committed to supporting horse owners with accurate diagnostics and practical guidance. For detailed information or to schedule a test, visit our services page.

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New Cow Testing Programmes

  1. Giving the cow a “GOOD START”
  • The transition period is the most important period in the lactating cow’s year, with 80% of disease costs associated with this period1. For this reason it is essential that every dairy cow gets a good start to their lactation.
  • Subclinical hypocalcemia and subclinical ketosis/ negative energy balance (NEB) are the main reasons why dairy cows do not get off to a “GOOD START”.
  • Up to 50% of freshly calved dairy cows suffer from one or both conditions during the transition period, this in turn leads to
  • Reduced fertility,
    • Reduced milk yield,
    • Metritis,
    • Mastitis
    • Displaced abomasum 2
  • Monitoring the metabolic profile of the herd in the transition period allows for effective decision making around prevention and treatment of these transition period problems
    • Low Calcium levels associated with subclinical hypocalcemia
    • Elevated BHB and NEFA levels associated with NEB
    • Low blood urea nitrogen levels are associated with poor availability of rumen degradable protein.
    • Albumin levels are associated with liver function and long-term protein status.
    • Elevated globulin levels can be indicative of chronic inflammation 3

2. The FarmLab Cow-Life programme monitors key health parameters in the herd on a continuous basis throughout lactation, thereby ensuring problems relating to health, parasites, and mastitis can be proactively detected.

Bulk tank milk is monitored throughout the lactation for:

Infectious disease – Leptospirosis. IBR, Salmonella, Mycoplasma, Neospora

Parasites – Gutworm and Liver Fluke

Mastitis – Individual culture of clinical mastitis / high SCC cases and Bulk tank milk PCR to detect the main mastitis causing organisms.

For more detailed information click on the download section of this website, items 13 and 14 or contact:
via email, [email protected]

As the seasons change

As the seasons change so does the nature of work being carried out at FarmLab. As we move from autumn to winter and drying off there is a big increase in the volumes of milk sample bacteriology being carried out. Bacteriological culture and sensitivity testing of milk samples is a useful means to identify which types of bacteria are causing problems on farm. Identification of contagious organisms such as Staphylococcus aureus, can have a big influence in determining how to approach the issue of dry cow therapy, and the issue of the use of antibiotics at drying off. Equally identification of organisms on farm which may be resistant to some antibiotics is essential when considering which treatments to use. The attending veterinary practitioner is uniquely placed to advise on the selection of antibiotics treatments, and helping to advise on whether antibiotics are required in certain cows at drying time (“Selective Dry Cow Therapy”). The use of milk culture and sensitivity testing is an essential tool in making an informed decision.

BEEP Scheme faecal sampling

Farmlab Diagnostics are a designated laboratory for BEEP Faecal testing.

In order to be able to provide the best quality of service in relation to BEEP faecal testing, we are taking a limited number of orders for BEEP faecal testing kits up to and including July 15th 2022. Due to limited capacity, we are only in a position to carry out BEEP testing for customers who sent BEEP samples to us previously in 2021.
BEEP testing kits can only be ordered by sending an email to [email protected]

We have now stopped taking orders for BEEP sampling kits. Kits which have already been sent out should be returned before 2/9/22

The last date for return of samples to FarmLab is 2/9/22. Note this is earlier than the DAFM cut off date, this is to allow time to process samples and return data to DAFM before their cut off date.

Enquiry’s relating to BEEP testing will be taken by email only. Enquiries should be made to [email protected].

Controlling Johnes disease

Watch our video here https://youtu.be/Q0PTvpT0DGE with Vet John Gilmore as he discusses Johnes disease

What is it?

Johnes disease is a chronic disease affecting herds causing a range of symptoms and having a massive impact on production and performance.

It is caused by a bacteria called MAP (mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis). This bacteria will be ingested by young animals, typically calves and lie dormant for years. We typically don’t see the symptoms of the disease before two years of age.

It is usually brought into herds by infected animals that are not showing any symptoms. There is a huge value for farms to know their johnes status when selling animals. Also, this must be a question more farmers need to be asking when purchasing stock.

In Ireland, we have our national Johnes control program. This program is being run by Animal Health Ireland with industry, vets, and farmers. This requires routine testing in conjunction with vet supported on-farm risk assessments.

We encourage all farmers to get involved in this important program aimed at johnes control in our national herd.

What are the symptoms?

We must remember johnes disease is a chronic disease meaning that it progresses slowly even after calves being infected or ingesting the bacteria. Some older infected animals will show no symptoms but will still be shedding continuing the cycle on the farm.

The typical symptoms we see with johnes are scouring, reduced feed efficiency and weight loss. This happens because the bacteria when it activates in the lower gut causes intestinal swelling and this leads to poor absorption of nutrients.

This then leads to scouring and weight loss. These animals are a really big source of infection for other animals especially calves.

How is it spread?

An animal positive for johnes will spread the bacteria in three ways

  1. In faeces in huge numbers which is the biggest risk
  2. In colostrum to young calves and also in milk
  3. They may infect their unborn calf in the womb also

The young animals will typically ingest the bacteria in faeces or maybe colostrum. It will then go to the intestine where it will almost go into hibernation. In this state, it also isn’t picked up by the immune system making testing impossible.

It begins to reactivate in animals as they get older (usually in animals >2 years old).

This continues the cycle with some showing symptoms as the disease progresses and also beginning shedding.

It can have a massive impact on profit and performance.

There are two critical elements to control, testing with a subsequent culling policy and controlling the spread on the farm (reducing the risk).

How can we test for it?

There are two main ways to test for johnes in milk or by blood sampling. With both these tests, we are checking for antibodies to the disease. This means that animals under two years of age are not tested as they may have been exposed but will be showing no evidence of the disease.

At farmlabs, we specialize in testing and improving animal health through the use of cutting edge science.

Faecal testing can also be used to isolate the bacteria itself to confirm blood or milk test results.

Watch the https://youtu.be/Q0PTvpT0DGE above as John outlines the key elements of testing and why with a chronic disease like johnes testing must be carried out over a number of years to establish the status of the herd.

When we identify johnes positive animals then we must start working on appropriate culling policy depending on numbers.

Talk to your veterinary surgeon about how you can start testing for and putting controls in place on your farm.

Controlling the risk

If we know the main spread is particularly by faeces, then milk and possibly in the womb to calves. We must work hard to reduce the risk of spread. Firstly with testing we can identify the positive cows and take very specific risk management with them around calving.

When we have johnes in our herds all these risks still need to be minimized for all stock.

For dairy calves, this is by snatch calving and avoiding things like pooling colostrum.

Here we outline why we need to get serious about johnes disease and its spread. Focus heavily on regular yearly tests (60 days must be left for testing after tb testing) and culling policies. Then work hard on reducing the spread within the herd.

For more information about johnes testing contact us on (071) 9630792  or email [email protected]

Top tips for taking milk samples

 Top tips for milk sampling

At farmlabs, we test hundreds of milk samples every month for farmers and vets to determine what pathogens are involved in mastitis cases. Getting a handle on these bugs can mean we can make better decisions on how to stop the spread. Different bacteria will act in different ways causing mastitis, it is important to identify these pathogens on your farm.

It can also inform us about what treatments might be effective. We perform culture and sensitivity testing on samples to check which antibiotics work on these bacteria.

To get the most accurate results it is so important to take the sample correctly. We must avoid contamination of samples as this will impact on the test results.

Watch our video here about 7 top tips to milk sampling https://youtu.be/jIxGbJSizqU

  • Get cotton wool and make swabs that you can then soak in alcohol to clean the teats effectively.
  • You will need clean gloves and sterile sample pots to take the milk sample into.
  • Use CMT (California mastitis test) to identify mastitis or pick up high SCC quarters
  • clean the outside of the teat first
  • Clean the teat orifice thoroughly
  • Draw out that teat twice before sampling
  • Angle sample container to minimize contamination
  • Fill the tube half full at least
  • Label your sample container with a tag number of the cow
  • Post quickly

Getting a good sample is essential to getting good quality results.

For more information about milk sampling and mastitis control contact us on 071 9630792 or email [email protected]

Focus on IBR control now

What is IBR?

Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis is an infectious viral disease of cattle that is contagious. It belongs to a family of viruses called herpesvirus. These viruses are different because they can develop latency. This means after initially becoming infected the animal may get sick or may appear clinically normal. Then the virus subsequently goes into hiding (in the nervous system) and can reactivate or reappear in times of stress. This means these animals often don’t get sick again but will shed the virus to infect other animals.

People will be familiar with the cold sore virus which acts in a very similar fashion in humans.


The virus affects the upper respiratory system of cattle. It can cause irritation and reddening of the airways and eyes. It can cause coughing and breathing difficulty. A lot of animals can become sick with the virus and will run a temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius.

It can also shed out to the bloodstream causing fertility issues and abortion.

How is it spread?

It can be spread in aerosol secretions from sick infected animals. This is usually by close contact or while sharing the same airspace. Another reason why ventilation and fresh air are so important. When controlling respiratory disease in cattle giving animals space and fresh air is so important indoors.

Adult animals shedding the disease can pose a risk to younger stock with little or no immunity.

Latently infected carriers can also shed the virus when reactivated through some stressors. They will not shed as much virus as infected animals but can be a significant source of infection. The real risk here is when we buy in these carrier animals (look healthy) they can then start shedding in the herd when becoming stressed.

This is where blood testing of bought-in stock for IBR may prove very valuable.

Some examples of these cases we have seen are where cows are bought in and at calving time start shedding.

They then can infect other cows at calving who are stressed causing significant clinical disease.

Watch our video https://youtu.be/-qZ4rxWxzUw as Farmlab vet John Gilmore discusses above the mechanisms by which IBR sheds and spreads.

IBR can cause significant issues with sick animals and disease. Not just respiratory disease, but infertility and immunosuppression.

How can we test for it?

Thankfully we have very effective tests for IBR virus in our state of the art laboratory. We can use blood samples to check for antibodies or use milk samples in dairy cows. Bulk milk screening tests are very useful for monitoring IBR levels in the dairy herd.

At farmlabs we also have a very unique PCR test that can pick up the virus on nasal swabs, This test can be used by your vet on clinical cases where there is a suspicion of respiratory disease and IBR.

We can also check the windpipe of animals we have carried out post mortems on by using PCR to check for the virus.

Talk to your vet today about sampling your herd to check for IBR status.

IBR antibodies can be checked for in blood

Control strategies

If your herd is IBR free then we must have very strict biosecurity to prevent the disease being bought in. This can be very difficult so most farms will incorporate vaccination as part of their control strategies.

IBR vaccination control programs work very well once the vaccine is used correctly and timed to protect animals at the greatest period of risk.

With a number of vaccination programs available talk to your vet about suitable protocols for your farm.

For more information about IBR testing, you can contact us on 071 9630792

Sheep Abortion The Facts

As we head into the peak of lambing season, one disease no sheep farmer wants to see is abortion. This can occur in flocks in the last trimester of pregnancy, with some abortion storms leading to 25% losses.

The target for abortions is to have them under 2% in your flock. 

We regularly talk to farmers in the vet practice who have experienced this devastating disease.

Like every disease it can have massive health and financial impacts on flock performance. During an outbreak of abortion we must act fast to get issues under control.

We can make short term decisions that can help but also accurate early diagnosis will help to make better future decisions around control.

There are several agents that can cause abortion. Chlamydial abortion, toxoplasmosis, salmonella, listeria amongst other things.

By far the two most common agents isolated are Enzootic (chlamydia abortus) and toxoplasmosis. 

Sheep abortion some facts 

  • Chlamydia abortion is a bacterial infection that can cause abortions in our flocks. It can spread easily from the womb of infected sheep, aborted lambs or afterbirth. Even young lambs or other infected sheep can pick up the infection from these materials. It will lie dormant in these sheep until they are 90 days pregnant greatly increasing the risk of abortion. 
  • In simple terms exposed sheep may become infected. They will appear normal but can abort after 90 days of pregnancy. 
  • This is one of the abortion agents we can bring into our flock with sheep carrying the bacteria. This is why operating a closed flock pays or else buying stock from a farm of known disease status. 
  • Where outbreaks occur all aborted sheep and aborted materials must be kept away from other sheep. Once this problem or chlamydia abortion has been diagnosed vets can recommend flock treatments with antibiotics.
  • With increased concerns around AMR and antibiotic resistance we must be very careful about flock treatments without the correct diagnosis. 
  • Toxoplsmosis is an abortion agent caused by a protozoan oocyst. The cat plays as important intermediate host in this cycle. They can spread toxoplasma oocysts in their faeces which can infect immunoniave sheep. 
  • With toxoplasma you can get a number of presentations. Some ewes will abort early and will scan empty. Other ewes will carry close to full term aborting anywhere in the last 6 weeks before lambing. 
  • While enzootic abortion you can have some lambs born weak or alive, with toxoplasma more often than not you will have dead lambs (or mummified foetuses.
  • During a toxoplasma outbreak there is little point treating the flock. Once a diagnosis is made, then long term control strategies like vaccination become very important.
  • With cats playing an important role in the potential spread of toxoplasmosis. All feed stores should be secured and cats really shouldn’t be allowed in sheep sheds with pregnant ewes. Following infection, sheep develop immunity which will protect them against the disease in subsequent pregnancies

Steps to take during an outbreak

We need to remember that these abortion agents are zoonotic agents. This means they can affect humans, with pregnant women being at particular risk. Take care while handling aborted material and when returning back into the house. 

All aborted material should be removed quickly from lambing pens. This includes dead lambs, placenta, lambing gloves and straw or bedding. 

Aborted lambs and placenta can be used to take diagnostic swabs by your veterinary surgeon. Farmlabs has a very unique test to diagnose the cause of abortions. 

All ewes that have aborted must be isolated from the flock. They can be the source of infection with other sheep in the flock including lambs.

Diagnostic options

Having a diagnosis of which agent has caused your abortion can really make a big difference. 

For more information around our cutting edge science in abortion detection using swabbing, talk to your own veterinary practitioner.

Sheep Abortions

Laboratory tests for the causes of sheep abortion are an essential diagnostic tool which can save the farmer huge expenditure in money, time, and labour.  However, it is vital that the swabs for the tests are performed accurately.  This Farmlab video shows the procedure clearly and also explains it in clear and straightforward language.

BVD The Facts For Farmers


Our BVD eradication scheme is coming very close to our target of national eradication and we are seeing the real animal health benefits on farms.

While we have not achieved national eradication, significant progress has been made. We can also learn valuable lessons for future programs and their implementation. For now BVD tissue tag testing is a key component of this program as we get closer to eradication.

Talking to vets up and down the country one thing they have really begun to reflect on, is how much more healthy cattle are. One area where significant improvements have been made, are in improving calf health. This improvement in calf health is one of the real success stories of the program.

BVD virus works by suppressing the immune system amongst other things. When we tackle disease we are always trying to raise immunity and reduce infection. Removing this virus from circulation is critical to healthy cattle farming.

Lets remind ourselves on BVD the facts

  • BVD or bovine viral diarrhoea virus has an affinity for the reproductive tract of animals causing a range of diseases. It can cause severe immunosuppression in young animals. An animal’s immune system is so important in the fight against infectious bugs and pathogens.
  • There are two strains of the virus but we commonly see BVDv type 1 in Ireland
  • Animals who haven’t been exposed to the virus are extremely susceptible. This means while most Irish farms current risks are low it is extremely important to keep the disease out. Good biosecurity is important when we consider all infectious disease.
  • The virus can spread orally or by inhalation, it will usually migrate to the ovaries and womb of female cattle. This is important because it can pass through the placenta into the young calf.
  • The critical thing to remember is when this happens in the first 120 days of pregnancy the calf can become persistently infected. At this early stage the calf has no immune system developed so will it be persistently infected with the virus.
  • These calves may not survive and abort or can be born persistently infected. The tissue tagging we currently do is to identify these calves early and remove them.
  • Very occasionally the virus can cause deformities in the calf.
  • The virus also can have devastating effects at breeding time itself, with dramatic increases in fertility issues. This can be seen with poor conception, early embryo loss and usually farmers will see very irregular repeats or cattle returning on heat.
  • While persistently infected animals are a huge source of the disease, we can also get animals with transient infections. This is where healthy animals are exposed to the virus, they will show the effects like infertility or often in older cattle issues like respiratory disease.
  • While the BVD virus can cause problems on its own, its effect on depressing the immune system opens the door for other viruses and bacteria. We can often see this where we have really bad outbreaks of pneumonia even in older cattle.
  • Where a persistently infected calf is born they can really shed billions of viruses into the environment. These will then infect other calves in the herd (transient infections 3-4 weeks). This can be absolutely devastating where you get calf scours.
  • BVD virus can also infect bulls , they will often get a temperature spike and can become infertile
  • Remember good biosecurity pays long term, don’t buy in disease and always secure boundaries.

We are very close to eradication

Removing PI (persistently infected) animals has been a key part of the program through tissue testing. These animals are like virus factories and early testing and prompt removal is critical. While most of these PI animals will not make it to 2 years. Some will and can appear normal but will continually shed the virus.

Should I continue to vaccinate?

This is a question we commonly get asked about BVD. Vaccination has traditionally played an important role in the control of BVD. Vaccines are often administered in advance of breeding to protect the female animal and her future calf.

Every vaccine will have a specific protocol and must be followed. While the risk of BVD is extremely low now for most herds, our advice has been to talk to your own veterinary practitioners about your herds risk.

The challenge is now, as the vast majority of herds have no immunity or exposure and outbreak could be devastating. While we have BVD in our national herd even at very small levels, this makes anyone advising to drop a vaccine in a very difficult position.

Farmlab Diagnostics continues to develop its services to help vets and farmers have healthier livestock.

Farmlab Diagnostics is a leading  provider of animal health diagnostic services to the Irish agri-food industry. BVD testing is just one of the many diagnostic services we perform in our lab. To check out the full array of diagnostic services go to www.farmlab.ie or contact us on (071) 9630792.

We also do special offers on larger volumes of testing, just pick up the phone to find out more.

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