What is arthritis in horses?
Arthritis is a general term meaning inflammation of the joint. Any joint, from hocks to fetlocks to the spine and neck and even the pelvis, can be affected. Arthritis in horses is a degenerative condition and requires supportive care and logical lifestyle changes for your horse.
The progression of arthritis
- Arthritis in horses is typically caused by the “wear and tear” of the joints. You will usually find arthritis in older horses, for a few reasons. There’s been more wear and tear over the years, and as horses age, their soft tissues lose elasticity, so tendons and ligaments wear. Cartilage in joints can also become thinner over time.
- When these support systems of the joint start to change and wear down, the joint becomes less and less able to absorb the natural shocks of your horse moving along, and the joints start to become inflamed.
- The surfaces of the joints can also change their alignment, creating unevenness and pressure points. For some horses, arthritis can be brought on or exacerbated by previous accidents that affect that joint or the surrounding areas.
- There is no cure for arthritis, but there are lots of things you can do. The primary objective is to reduce the inflammation in your horse’s joints, so that you can help him be comfortable and healthy. The earlier you can find arthritis, the better.
Signs of arthritis in horses
- Most horses in the very early stages of arthritis won’t hold up a sign or send you an email in all caps. The early signs of arthritis are quite subtle, and you might notice the following:
- Difficulty under saddle. This is a huge and broad category, but it could include a shorter stride, unwillingness to move forward or away from your leg, a hollow back, balking at jumps, taking much longer to warm up, and stiffness as you start your ride.
- In the grooming area, you might find heat or swelling in the legs or joints. Your horse might be reluctant to lift legs for hoof picking. Backing up and turning around in small spaces is trickier.
- In the paddocks, you may see your horse drag the hind toes a bit. Or perhaps he takes longer to walk to his favorite shady spot. Or he is somehow different when rolling or getting up from rolling.
What should you do if you notice your horse acting like he has arthritis?
- Call your vet! Really. An official diagnosis can help you and your vet come up with a plan.
Keep your horse moving!
Can a horse with arthritis be ridden?
- It seems logical that if arthritis really hurts your horse, he should be retired and not exercised. Well, the exact opposite is true. Horses with arthritis that are not exercised can go through a series of changes. First, the sore joint is pampered by your horse. He begins to use the other legs to avoid the sore joint being used. Aside from making your horse uneven, the other legs can overcompensate. The sore joint will lose mobility, as the soft tissues that hold it together are not working as much now. In some advanced cases, the bones around the joint start to change shape, making the immobility and limited use of the sore joint permanent.
- When an arthritic horse is properly and fairly exercised, his sore joints have the wonderful benefit of blood being pumped through them. This keeps the soft tissues in shape as the cartilage doesn’t have its own blood supply.
- Walking is such a wonderful way for your horse to stave off arthritis. Your horse doesn’t have to break world records, walking is just fine for most horses.
- The plan is to keep them comfortable. This starts with movement. Just ask anyone with an arthritic shoulder or knee – motion is lotion.
Radiographs can give your vet and your farrier inside peeks into your horse’s joints.
What are the best treatments for arthritis in horses?
Arthritis is best treated with supportive care and lifestyle changes. Letting your horse “be a horse” with tons of free movement and turnout is a good place to start. Then enhance your horse’s nutrition, and provide supportive care and therapies.
Tackle your horse’s diet.
- A properly balanced diet with appropriate amounts of Omega fatty acids is a must. You can’t do this willy-nilly, be smart about the proper Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. Deets on all of that can be found here.
- You can opt to add in some joint supplements, too. This is another great reason to use a legit Equine Nutritionist – there are loads of options on the market. You want to pick a joint supplement that doesn’t overlap the other elements in your horse’s diet.
- A good place to start is with a glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplement, and there’s also some great research regarding resveratrol for horses and how it can help the arthritic horse.
- One more thing about your horse’s diet – make sure his weight is healthy. Overweight horses have a slew of issues, and one of them is the added stress on their joints. Use a weight tape to keep tabs on your horse’s waistline.
Keep up with your horse’s hooves.
- No hoof, no horse is the most cliche, and the most truthful, statement about horses. The unbalanced hoof means unbalanced joints up the leg. Don’t overlook the help that a quick set of hoof X-rays can provide your Vet and Farrier so double check on everything.
- Also, be aware of the footing that your horse exercise and lounges on. Mud, deep footing, hard footing, and rocky footing should be avoided if possible. It’s never going to be perfect.
Ice can help your horse’s inflammation.
Add pharmaceuticals to your horse’s routine.
- Your vet can advise you if your horse is a candidate for periodic or daily intervention. There are lots of treatments out there besides daily bute (or another anti-inflammatory) and joint injections. Some horses might benefit from chiropractics, shockwave treatments, special horseshoes, prescribed exercise and stretches, therapeutic lasers, and more.
- Add heat and ice to your horse’s life. Heat serves to warm up and loosen the arthritic joints before exercise. Combined with an extra-long warm-up period, many horses with arthritis can benefit from some warming treatments. Heat packs, special blankets, and some liniments are considered heating.
- Ice serves to literally shrink inflammation in your horse’s joint, usually after exercise. It’s inexpensive and easy to do. You can also choose some liniments or poultice to help as well, these are great cooling tools to use after your horse exercises.
Arthritis doesn’t have to stop your horse from having a productive life.
If you need to get some things to help your horse and his arthritis, you can shop here. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support!
Cosequin ASU Plus Equine Powder (1050 Grams) – a proven joint supplement.
Uptite Poultice – the clay kind!
These ice packs make for easy cooling of your horse’s legs and hooves and they last for hours.
Sore No More Liniment Bottle – pick your size