Managing Arthritis in Your Horse
Arthritis is a serious issue for horses. It’s important to do everything you can to slow the progression of the disease and to minimise the pain that your horse experiences.
If you already own a horse, there is nothing you can do about its conformation. But you should learn which type of activities are likely to cause arthritis in your horse. For instance, a sickle-hocked horse, where the cannon bone slopes forward, experiences increased strain on its hock. This is because the hoof and ankle are too far forward and so deliver greater force to the hock which is then at risk of becoming arthritic. Offset cannon bones, on the other hand, place greater stress on a horse’s knees, increasing the chance of arthritis in that area.
If you know your horse, you can take measures to reduce the stress on the areas of its body most vulnerable to arthritis. But there is much you can do to address arthritis generally.
Keep hooves well-trimmed and balanced as this helps to reduce the risk of arthritis. Even the smallest imbalance can alter the stress on the joints and lead to trouble over time.
It is counter intuitive, but exercise is vital for an arthritic horse. Exercise keeps joints mobile but it is crucial that you don’t overdo it. Joint cartilage has no blood supply and is nourished only by joint fluid. This is compressed out when a horse exercises allowing new fluid to flow in when the joint is not bearing weight.
Exercise also stimulates cartilage to become stronger in the areas that are being stressed. Movement strengthens the ligaments between bones, holding them in alignment. But extreme exercise such as working at speed, exaggerated gaits and repeated jumping will unduly stress the joints. Hard-working horses should be monitored for changes in gait, stiffness, swelling or signs of discomfort.
You can slow arthritic progression by supplementing your horse’s diet before extensive joint changes have occurred. Experiment to find the dose which yields the greatest benefit. We have much to learn about supplements and more research into their efficacy is certainly required but anecdotal evidence suggests that they can help. Horse supplements can be single ingredients or blends and may feature components of joint fluid and joint cartilage or substances involved in the metabolism of those tissues. Ingredients to reduce pain and inflammation may also be included. We offer a range of .
Excess weight will place additional strain on a horse’s joints and so it is vital that a horse is maintained at its optimum weight. Read our and the possible reasons why your horse might be gaining weight.
Arthritic horses, like people, will stiffen up in the cold. Wraps and bandages can help to keep joints warm and rubbing will help too. But if your horse is suffering from inflammation after exercising, aggressive icing could make all the difference to their pain and the progression of the disease. Indeed, it’s a good idea to ice problem areas routinely after exercise, even if no inflammation is evident.
It isn’t easy to care for a horse with arthritis and there is much to consider. You will find yourself continually having to assess the horse and then adjusting its level of activity and diet accordingly. But your care and attention will make a difference.