Equine Arthritis


Overview: Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joint.  The most common type of arthritis seen in horses is osteoarthritis, which is characterized by degeneration of the articular cartilage.  The articular cartilage lines the bone in the joint.  Arthritis is a major cause of lameness in horses, especially athletic or geriatric horses.  There is no cure for arthritis, but there are several options to improve your horses’ comfort level.  Clinical signs include lameness, heat, swelling, pain and/or reduced range of motion.  There is no cure for arthritis, but there are management options to help make the horse more comfortable.  Osteoarthritis can develop primarily or can be secondary to an injury or conformational defects.


Diagnosis: Diagnosis is based on a full lameness examination.  Radiographs are the most common and cost-effective way to diagnose arthritis.  In the early stages of OA, MRI may be needed to definitively diagnose OA.


Treatment: Horses with OA do best when they are turned out frequently and permitted to move around.  They should also receive frequent exercise.  It is also important to keep your horse at a good body condition.  Extra weight can add more strain on the joints.  There is no cure for OA, but there are many treatment options available to manage pain  including NSAIDs, joint supplements, Adequan, Legend and joint injections.


NSAIDs- This includes Bute, Banamine or Equioxx.  These work to decrease inflammation, which helps to relieve pain.

Joint supplements- There are many products on the market.  Supplements do not have to undergo FDA regulations and therefore can be quit variable.  Cosequin is the only FDA approved joint supplement at this time.  However, there are several reputable brands that have put research into their products.  Joint supplements often contain glucosamine, which is a primary building block for cartilage, chondroitin sulfate, which often helps to reduce inflammation and tissue destruction in the joint and MSM, which helps to relieve pain.  Other possible ingredients include cetyl myristoleate, hyaluronic acid, avocado/soybean unsaponifiable extracts (ASU), vitamins, minerals and various herbs.  It is suggested that joint supplements help with cartilage production, inhibit inflammation and/or inhibit enzymes that break down cartilage.

Adequan- The active ingredient in Adequan is Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan.  Adequan has been shown to relieve pain and inflammation, restore synovial fluid lubrication, inhibit destructive enzymes, stimulate cartilage repair and reverse degenerative joint disease.  This is given more frequently initially and then a once monthly IM injection is given.

Legend- The active ingredient in Legend is hyaluronate sodium.  It works by decreasing the production and release of inflammatory mediators.  Legend also stimulates the production of hyaluronic acid in the joint.

Joint Injections- If the horse fails to respond to other treatments, injection of medication directly into the joint is often performed.  Medications that are often used are corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid  and/or antibiotics.  These are used to decrease inflammation and improve mobility.  It is important to remember that infection and/or inflammation post- injection is rare, but a possibility.  Joint injections are often used to enhance the performance of athletic horses suffering from OA.  While injecting multiple joints is possible, it is often impractical and costly.  Geriatric horses often have multiple sources of OA and often benefit from other methods of pain relief.


Prognosis:  The prognosis varies based on the severity and the horses’ response to treatment.  High motion joints such as the fetlock are often more serious than lower motion joints such as the lower hock joints.


Prevention: Prevention involves removing inciting factors.  This includes having OCD lesions or intra-articular fractures removed surgically, routine farrier care and correct conformational defects in young, growing horses.



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