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Arthritis in Horses

 10/25/2018

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With access to better nutrition, improved veterinary care and management, horses are living longer.  As in people, dog and cat arthritis sets in as the geriatric years fall upon them.  It is no surprise horses are susceptible to arthritis as well, especially with some of the high impact activities they might do.  It is important to identify early arthritis so it can be managed as best as possible, giving your horse quality of life which is as pain free as possible.

Definition of arthritis

Arthritis is the degeneration of the cartilage layer in the joints.  This causes inflammation in the joint which may be painful.  When severe, the whole layer of cartilage is eventually lost, causing bone-on-bone touching in the joint which is severely painful. The cartilage layer is a shock absorber, helps keep joints well lubricated and provides a smooth surface for joints.

Any previous joint injuries or infections can predispose a horse to developing arthritis earlier.

How do I know if my horse has arthritis?

The signs to look out for are:

  • Changes in the gait of your horse (lameness), these are often very subtle and may go unnoticed.
  • Reluctance or difficulty doing tasks which were previously easy to do.
  • Stiff after periods of rest.  This may go away as the horse warms up.
  • The affected joint may be warm or painful to the touch. Joints may appear swollen.
  • Difficulty getting up after lying down.
  • A painful back.
  • Reduced appetite.

If you are worried and your horse is displaying any of these symptoms, it is best to get your veterinarian to examine your horse to confirm the diagnoses and so that the correct treatment may be prescribed.

My horse has been diagnosed with arthritis, what now?

Your veterinarian will help you manage the arthritis and recommend when medication is needed.  Be careful with anti-inflammatory drugs and don’t exceed the dosage prescribed as this may cause stomach ulcers.

Other ways to support arthritis joints:

  • There are supplements available (for example Mobiflex for horses and Pro Joint Equine) which can help keep joints healthy by supporting healthy cartilage and reducing joint inflammation. 
  • Increasing the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in your horses’ diet.  Omega 3’s are a natural anti-inflammatory.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.  Don’t over-feed your horse as excess weight will make arthritic joints worse.  At the same time, don’t feed your horse too little as muscle wasting will occur and weak muscles won’t support weak joints.  This will increase the risk of your horse being injured.
  • Regular checks by your farrier to keep your horses’ hooves in good condition and well balanced.
  • Exercise is good to maintain healthy muscles to support the weak joints.  Be careful not to over exercise your horse and start causing unnecessary strain on the muscles and tendons.
  • Physiotherapy is a great help in building up weak muscles and keeping horses mobile and active.

 

Remember, we can’t cure arthritis but only manage the progressive disease.  The aim is to keep your horse as pain free as possible while maintaining quality of life.

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