Arthritis is one of the most common causes of debilitation and lameness in horses. It occurs when there is continuous inflammation of cartilage in the joint, resulting in the complete destruction of that cartilage. As time passes, the cartilage of the joint becomes so thin that it causes severe pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion.
What is probably the must frustrating and unfortunate aspect of arthritis in horses is that it is not a reversible condition, meaning the condition will only worsen over time if not treated. While there is no way to cure arthritis in horses, there is certainly a large selection of treatments available that can help to slow the destructive process and provide some relief to your horse.
Continue Regular Exercise
Unless your horse is severely lame, you should always continue to provide regular, daily exercise to your horse. The benefit of exercise is that it allows for the continued support and strengthening of the muscles that support the joints. This is turn helps the cartilage of the joints to remain strong and can help to reduce the quick progression of arthritis.
Additionally, horses that are regularly exercised on a consistent basis have a much lower chance of developing arthritis. Because exercises produces repetitive strengthening of the joints and associated cartilage, it is always good to keep your horse active and well-exercised.
Corticosteroid and Hyaluronic Acid Injections
After your horse has been diagnosed with arthritis, the first line of defense is usually a two-part injection of hyaluronic acid and a corticosteroid. Hyaluronic acid is naturally produced by the joint fluid, which produces an anti-inflammatory effect. When this is injected into a horse’s joint, it tends to strengthen the joint and also prompts the body to begin producing more hyaluronic acid.
Given in combination with hyaluronic acid is a corticosteroid, which also produces anti-inflammatory effects. However, the benefit of the corticosteroid is that it has the ability to halt to the deterioration of the joint relatively quickly, essentially providing a tremendous amount of pain relief. Depending on the severity of the arthritis and lameness, this type of injection is usually given once every six to 12 months.
Medications and Supplements
If your horse has arthritis, it goes without saying that you will most likely be medicating him and providing supplementation for the remainder of his life. Most commonly prescribed is a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). This type of medication is not as strong as a true steroid, but it can provide a tolerable amount of pain relief and inflammation. Used in conjunction with annual corticosteroid injections, NSAIDs have been found to help the return of a horse’s range of motion and his normal activities.
Feeding supplements to your horse can sometimes be difficult because of the vast selection available to you. For a horse with arthritis, you should be specifically looking for a supplement that includes glucosamine and chondroitin, which are also compositions normally created by the body. A supplement with these two ingredients can aid in the repair of damaged cartilage and in the return of elasticity to the cartilage.