Arthritis and Your Horse

Arthritis and Your Horse

6 Management and Treatment Options to Keep Your Horse Active

The great news is that horses are living longer. The not-so-great news is that a longer life brings a higher risk of your horse developing arthritis.

A long active life places wear and tear on your horse’s joints and can cause horse arthritis. The silver lining to an arthritis diagnosis is that there are many new management and treatment options that can keep you horse active and comfortable.

Our goal at Grand Meadows is to provide you with balanced and clear information that helps you make informed decisions about your horse and their health. However, please do not rely solely on these blog posts for advice – always contact your veterinarian about any health concerns and questions.

What is Horse Arthritis?

Horse arthritis is a degeneration or break-down of the horse joint. Wear and tear from normal activity causes the joint surfaces to break down resulting in inflammation and an erosion of the joint.

Horse joints are supported by a range of ligaments, muscles, tendons, cartilage, and synovial fluid. When the joint becomes irritated or sore, the body triggers an inflammatory response that is designed to protect and heal the injured joint.

However, when the inflammation becomes chronic a trickle-down effect happens in the horse joint resulting in a breakdown of the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint, making the joint stiff and sore. This places greater stress on the supporting ligaments, tendons, and muscles, causing these to be overtaxed and inflamed.

Eventually, the cartilage that pads the joint and provides the cushioning between the joint structure begins to collapse, creating a painful joint that makes it impossible to stand, jump, walk, or rest without pain.

The horse joints most prone to arthritis include the knee, fetlock, coffin, hock, and pastern.

How Do I Know If My Horse Has Arthritis?

To know if your horse has arthritis you need to consult a veterinarian. Be aware of these common signs and symptoms of arthritis when caring for your horse:

  • Small changes in how your horse moves. Body and position adjustments including a shortened stride, a raised head, or a hollow in the back can indicate joint pain.
  • A change in behavior and disinterest in performing their normal routine.
  • Stiff movement that eases as your horse warms up and gets moving.
  • Swelling or puffiness around a joint.
  • A joint that feels warm or triggers a pain response when touched.
  • Lameness or limping.
  • A reduced range of motion in one or more joints.
  • Abnormal wear patterns on the shoes can indicate a change in gait and how your horse is supporting their weight.

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms of horse arthritis, contact your veterinarian immediately. The earlier that horse arthritis is diagnosed and treated, the easier it is for your horse to live a full and active life without arthritis-related pain.

6 Horse Arthritis Management and Treatment Options that Can Keep Your Horse Active

Fortunately, there is a great deal of research and information about how to care for a horse who is diagnosed with arthritis. A diagnosis of arthritis does not mean that your horse can no longer get out for rides and enjoy their regular activities.

Instead, it means that you need to work with your veterinarian to find the ideal treatment and management option that gives your horse a high-quality standard of life.

These six horse arthritis management and treatment options can help keep your horse active and happy:

  1. Regular Exercise
    It might sound counter-intuitive to keep your horse moving and exercising with a diagnosis of arthritis. But just like people living with arthritis, we know that regular exercise and movement helps strengthen joints and prevent painful stiffness.

    Regular exercise improves circulation, strengthens muscles and tendons, and improves agility making it easier for your horse to move without pain and restrictions. Work with your veterinarian to determine which movements, pace, and exercises work best for your horse. Pay attention to any signs of pain, stiffness, or reluctance to exercise – this can indicate a change in symptoms or an additional injury.

  2. Weight Management
    Any excess weight that your horse is carrying puts additional and unnecessary stress on already irritated and sore joints. It is not easy for an overweight horse to move comfortably and to remain agile. When your horse’s agility is compromised, they are much more likely to take an awkward step that can result in a fall or injury.

    Additionally, make sure your horse is not underweight. An underweight horse lacks the muscular strength to support ease-of-movement and regular joint motion. When a horse is too thin, they are often lacking critical nutrients that help build and support bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and soft tissue – making the horse more prone to injury and illness.

  3. Horse Joint Supplements
    Horse joint supplements are a great way to support your horse’s defense against the normal degenerative process that causes horse arthritis. Ideally, you would start your hose on specialized joint supplements before an arthritis diagnosis. However, the science and research does show that horse joint supplements can be effective after an arthritis diagnosis.

    When researching horse joint supplements, look for a supplement that includes these key ingredients proven to help support and heal joints: glucosamine, hyaluronic acid (HA), chondroitin sulfate, MSM, and collagen type II. Many horse joint supplements also include Vitamin C, Zinc, Manganese, Lysine, Methioninee, Vitamin B-3, Niacin, Copper, Proline, Bioflavonoids, Devil’s Claw, or Omega 3 & 6.

    When reading supplement ingredients make sure the supplement is manufactured in an FDA-approved facility. Additionally, verify that the manufacturer is a member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC). The mission of the NASC is to police the supplement industry, ensuring that the animal health supplements produced by member companies are safe and effective.

  4. Diet
    Consult your veterinarian on dietary changes that can help reduce inflammation while ensuring adequate nutrition and calories. Do not make dietary changes without consulting your veterinarian.

    Ask your veterinarian about:
    1. Omega 3 & 6
    2. How to incorporate horse joint supplements into a regular diet.
    3. If Vitamin E will help strengthen your horse’s immune system and support healthy muscles and nerves.
    4. The impact of medications on your horse’s digestive tract.

  5. Medication
    Medications cannot cure horse arthritis, but they can help treat the inflammation and pain. What works for one horse, will not necessarily work for another horse. Discuss all medical arthritis treatment options with your veterinarian – do not simply order medications online.

    The medication protocol depends on a range of factors including the age, risk factors, other medical issues, activity level, and overall health of your horse. Do ask your veterinarian about the pros and cons of each medication and make sure you know the medication side effects.

  6. Responsible Horse Care Management
    Your horse relies on you to look after them properly. Pay extra attention to your horse’s feet – remember that properly balanced hooves can help prevent the concussive joint impacts that come with every step, helping to reduce joint wear and tear.

    When you’re out riding, pay attention to the surface – make sure your horse is walking easily on the surface and is not walking on overly hard or soft surfaces. Consult your trainer or veterinarian about how to warm up and stretch your horse so that they’re ready for exercise. Talk to your trainer about the benefits of range of motion exercises that can help gently break down scar tissue, creating more mobility and healing in the joint.

Above all else, pay attention to the signals that your horse is giving you. Horses are extremely communicative and will make it clear when they are in pain, not interested in riding, or not feeling well.

A diagnosis of horse arthritis is not the end – but you do need to be proactive in taking care of your horse and making sure they get everything they need to live an active, happy, and comfortable life.

Our goal at Grand Meadows is to make sure your horse is healthy, happy, and strong. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have about your horse or horse joint supplements.

Nick Hartog

by Nick Hartog

In 1994, Nick Hartog became an owner and President of Grand Meadows Equine Supplements bringing his talents and extensive background in domestic and international equine sales and manufacturing. He has a reputation for plain speaking of the truth. In 1997, when the US horse supplement market was something akin to the Wild West with a complete lack of standards, Nick personally tested 32 different horse joint supplements to see if they matched the label. Unsurprisingly, to him at least, only 2 products matched the label claim. Read more...