Regardless of your horse’s discipline or occupation, arthritis can affect your horse as they age. The condition could come on gradually, worsening with stiffness, or appear suddenly after trauma. Whichever way arthritis may come about, it ultimately means that your horse has developed chronic inflammation which has led to permanent degradation of the cartilage in your horse’s joints.
Unfortunately, the damage is irreversible. There is no cure or way to fix the joints. This means it is important for you to help your horse to reduce inflammation, pain, and further damage. While this harsh reality may seem hopeless, current research is yielding new treatments and investigation management techniques that can help horses stay active longer and live more comfortably with arthritis.
A horse's knees, hocks, and pasterns are designed to flex, compress, and extend hundreds or thousands of times each day, for years on end. All while supporting their weight and enduring concussive forces.
As a horse moves, flexing and compression can produce minute damage within the joint structures that triggers mild inflammatory responses to make the repairs. Normally the body’s own defenses control the inflammation and the joint remains healthy and sound.
However, sometimes the horse is overwhelmed by the inflammation and cannot contain it. This could be from an acute single injury or stress and overuse over the years. At that point, a cascade of events begins: The inflammatory enzymes break down the lubricating synovial fluid, which gets thinner. Proteoglycans are lost and the collagen fibers lose integrity, which diminishes the cartilage's ability to retain lubricating water. This damage stimulates even more inflammation, which fills the joint capsule with fluids, leading to pressure, pain, and stiffness.
The key to helping a horse live comfortably with arthritis is to catch it early and get the inflammation under control to stop the cycle of damage. If you come to the conclusion that your horse is lame, the arthritis is already advanced.
This is why it is incredibly important to investigate even minor discomfort and catch it early. Early signs to look out for are if the horse is moving stiffly until they've warmed up or they may be perpetually short strided. Then, oftentimes, the horse will be reluctant to move only on one lead, in one direction, or at a certain gait. These are signs that are of great significance as previously your horse was able to perform these with ease.
If you believe your horse might be suffering by noticing these early signs, contact your veterinarian; you can even contact us for a free veterinary consult! Your vet will begin the diagnostic process with a hands-on examination to look for heat and swelling in a horse's joints, followed by a full lameness exam, including flexion tests.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis at this time, but treatments can halt or slow the development of inflammation that brings further damage, ease pain and stiffness, or the regeneration of cartilage if possible.
Your vet will be able to best judge how to begin treatment and what will work specifically for your horse. Each case is based on the individual horse and depends on the causes as well as the severity of the problem.
There are a growing number of options to choose from. Equine Med’s Comfort Quik is great for helping joints, tendons, and ligaments. This product is specifically made to help backyard horses and older horses move better. This is the only horse joint supplement with Epoxogen complex. Use this for both moderate or advanced joint problems.
There many topical creams as well as oral supplements that will help ease the pain. It is important to follow your vet’s advice carefully to determine which treatment will work best. Creams can be applied directly to the skin over the affected joint. They are commonly prescribed for acute injuries; this product has been shown to have protective effects on joints. Currently, there are more than 80 supplements formulated to support equine joint health on the market. Many contain glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and/or hyaluronan, substances found naturally in joints.
With careful management, many horses can live comfortably with arthritis for years. Just make sure to keep them as active as possible, so it can stimulate circulation while minimizing the risks of overuse and the inflammation it brings. Here are some basic things to make sure you continue to do to help your horse:
- Keep riding, if possible.
- Optimize turnout
- Choose appropriate footing
- Have hooves trimmed regularly
- Manage your horse’s weight
- Look into natural supplements that can aid in easing the pain of arthritis such as Comfort Quik
With modern treatment strategies as well as time-honored methods, horses with arthritis can live comfortable, almost normal, lives. But it's best to catch it in its earliest stages before much damage has been done. That means paying close attention to your horse's bumps, swellings, and idiosyncrasies as your horse gets older.