Horse Arthritis: A Result of Their Old Age or the Cause of Human Blunders on a Young Horse?

horse arthritis

Arthritis is an old age foe of most of the humans and horses, which is caused by the inflammation of articular surfaces of the joint due to its degeneration. This results in increased trauma in the joints, gradually worsening stiffness. The cartilage where the degeneration occurs is a structure made up of collagen fibers, which gives strength. These collagen fibers are interlaced with protein-based molecules that trap water within the medium. As the horse bends its joints, the cartilage muscle expands and contracts, which force the water in and out, acting as a shock-absorbing tool. Usually, the body responds to the minor inflammations triggered by minute damage within the joint structures. But in case of overwhelming soreness, the body loses its capacity to contain it, eventually leading to the dilemma known as ‘horse arthritis.’

To know more about different health problems in senior horses, check this article “Senior Horse Health Problems – Potential Risks, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment“.

How is Horse Arthritis Caused Eventually?

A flow of events begins when the horse’s cartilage faces the uncontained inflammation. The synovial fluid is broken down by a synovial enzyme, which is a lubricant, and it starts to get thin. As a result, the collagen fibers begin to lose their strength and uprightness, and hence the cartilage’s ability to retain the lubricating water is diminished. Even more, inflammation is fueled by this damage. As a result, the joint capsule is filled by the fluids that lead to pressure, stiffness, and severe pain. The accumulation of these inflammatory enzymes breaks down the synovial fluid, accelerating the damage to the cartilage.

How to Tell If a Horse Has Arthritis?

Almost 60% of all lameness in the horses is believed to be caused by arthritis. Joints such as the knee, fetlock, coffin, hock, and pastern are the most affected by arthritis. There are some critical signs by which you can tell if a horse has arthritis or not. If a horse appears to have uneven gaits and clumsy legs while walking along with shortened tread, it can reveal the arthritis pain.

Moreover, if a horse is reluctant to follow the lead in the canter or lope, pick up the pace in the jumpers and barrels, which may also reflect the pain of arthritis they could be going through. Some other symptoms of horse arthritis may include your horse raising its head often, unwillingness to perform those tasks that were easy for it in the past, puffiness, and the warm area around the inflamed joint or stiffness that goes away as soon as your horse warms up. Horse arthritis is not only limited to one joint. It can be found in various parts of the horse’s body, such as hock, knee, and neck too. Talk to your vet if you have observed some of these signs in your horse.

Hock Arthritis

The hock joint is made up of 4 main joint levels. The lower two hock joints are more common in developing arthritis in performance horses. These joints faceless trauma because they are very low motion joints; therefore, they respond effectively to the treatment provided to them. Arthritis of next joint up (proximal-intertarsal joint), is very rare, but career-ending. The upper two joint levels known as the proximal- intertarsal joint is very sensitive to motion and is very high motion joint. Sadly, the treatment for this level is hopeless, and the very poor soundness of the horse becomes the future.

There is a flexion test that can test for the mild hock lameness to spot in the horses. The process is as follows: first, to lead or ride your horse, you will need a helper. Then, by facing back, stand in the hindquarters and pick up the lower leg of the horse. Hold the lower leg by raising it close to the upper leg for almost a minute while flexing the hock. Now, ask your helper to trot the horse right after you have put down the lower leg to spot if there is a hock problem or not. If the horse’s gait is visually disturbed, then the horse is expected to become a lamer.

Hock Arthritis Treatment and Medication

Various methods can help to lower the pain experienced by the horse going through the hock trauma. Some changes can be brought in the management and training regimes of the horse, which can help. Let the horse move around on his own will and cut the amount of workload, especially the chores that can stress the hocks. Keep the cartilage nourished, lightweight activities are preferred for the smooth circulation of fluids in the tissues.

You can also take care of the shoeing of the horse via adjusting the hoof angle by toe shortening or raising the heel. The extensions affect the placement of the foot and cause uneven force on the hocks. Therefore, heel extensions should be avoided in such cases.

If symptoms flare up, optimum medication can be used, such as cold therapy. So horse hock medicines can help, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as phenylbutazone. For your information, long term treatment with NSAIDS can be detrimental.

Hock Treatment Injections

Hock arthritis treatment for lower two hock joints is the periodic horse arthritis injections which constitute of corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid. These can be given periodically, providing successful results by injecting the anti-inflammatory agents directly into the space between the bones of the sore joints. Strong anti-inflammatory effects found in corticosteroids can be used with the combination of hyaluronic acid to make the fluid in the joints viscous. These injections are successful in preventing the hock pain and stiffness with rare side effects. Still, there is no clinical proof that these injections can prevent horse arthritis.

Neck Arthritis

If the joint cartilage in the region of the neck is damaged or worn out, the thickening of the synovial fluid is caused that changes the neck muscle control of the horse. It is witnessed somewhat in the ridden horses when they age, resulting in neck arthritis. The neck facet joints experience pain and soreness, which is the most common symptom signaling the change in the performance and behavior of the horse and forecasted forelimb lameness. Although, the primary changes in the neck surrounding muscles are occurred due to the changes in joints around axial muscles. Arthritis plays a secondary role in effecting the neck muscles here. Consequently, facet joint inflammation inhibits the neck motion and smooth functioning, making the neck arthritis the cause of pain and dysfunction.

Due to these problems, you can observe that the horse contracts his long neck muscles to even out his neck during the performance or in motion. Even if the primary problem of the neck is treated with medication, the loss of stability enters into the secondary pain dilemma and the vicious cycle of arthritis inflammation continues with the stages of development.

Does Riding Position Effects Horse’s Neck

It is also very important to make sure how your horse’s neck is while riding. If the horse is treading with its head in the air and the neck is not aligned with the head, his back would become hollow, which shows that the horse is likely to get arthritis and would underperform in the competitions. What you can do is refrain from riding the horse in contact all the time. Give the horse the time to stretch and relax its neck and body muscles time and again during the training. Do not let the horse wear contacts all the time, especially when it’s not training.

The Horse Neck Arthritis and Pain Treatment

There are various methods to treat the neck issues faced by the horse, which include: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) administration, decrease in the horse’s workload, and sparing the horse with some time off. The treatment can take off either temporary or permanent depending on the conditions; anti-inflammatory medication such as the cervical facet injections, corticosteroids, or prophylactic antibiotics into the facet joints between the cervical vertebrae; treating with mesotherapy; acupuncture; chiropractic (medications where mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system is treated and diagnosed); laser therapy, and shock wave therapy.

Carpus Arthritis

The carpus, also incorrectly known as the knee joint (it is the horse’s wrist), is the common target for arthritis, which can be both congenital or through conditions that are associated with lameness. The most common cause of knee arthritis can be both primary and secondary causes that include trauma, which is very common in racehorses. Fractures are one of a kind of trauma where the carpal or avulsion fractures are most commonly associated with the medial collateral ligament damage. In addition to that, repeated episodes of trauma in the same region can lead to traumatic synovitis and capsulitis, which falls into the unstoppable cycle of degenerative joint disease, also known as arthritis. The signs and symptoms are the same as of lameness and uneven horse gait witnessed with discomfort. A hygroma is another condition where the deformity is caused without the sign of lameness.

Symptoms of Knee Arthritis

As mentioned before, there are some specific symptoms that you can identify in the racehorses that can lead to knee arthritis and other joint pains. These include swollen carpus, mitigated race performance, front limbs appearing bow-legged, bench-knee, calf-knee, the resistance of the horse in bending, raising or lifting a limb and lameness. What you can do to prevent and assess these symptoms in time is to evaluate the front limb, the lameness at the walk and the trot to judge for the diagnosis the horse would be needing.

Horse Knee Arthritis Treatment and Diagnostics

You can run some tests for the on the knee part to narrow down the problem faced by the horse. These can be: the lameness exam, which included the study of the history of the horse, a standing exam, movement exam (particularly the trot), the flexion test, hoof tester exam and so on; radiography can be conducted for the affected area, or the arthroscopic exploration. You must consult your vet to carry out the treatments linked with your horse’s knee diagnosis.

Horse arthritis treatment for the knee part might improve the condition which are: NSAIDs, that can be used generally to numb the pain and cure the viscosity of the joint fluid; extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) that is used for physical therapy or orthopedics; joint injections such as sodium hyaluronate; steroids for joint, sheath or bursa medication. Some less common treatment methods can also be utilized depending on the condition and prognosis of your horse’s knee. These consist of Arthrodesis, which is the surgical fusion of carpus, using drugs, i.e., bisphosphonates, Clodronate, Tiludronate, Adequan, and Banamine. This drug therapy, along with cold therapy (which is ice generally) are useful too if prescribed by the veterinarian.

An Overall Horse Arthritis Prevention and Treatment

You can be an all-rounder in managing your horse’s health and taking care of his work-life balance to avoid horse arthritis, which can be prevalent in the old age of your horse. As you know, old horses are more prone to arthritis due to continuous wear and tear with time. This leads to the weakening of the ligaments and the muscles losing their elasticity. This causes cell death in the fibrous tissues, thus dilution of the joint cartilage. Infections and joint injuries incurred by your horse in the past may also result in expected arthritis. To keep arthritis under control, you must detect the symptoms earlier to decrease the damage of inflammation.

Horse Arthritis Supplements

Some ways can help your horse to remain fit and healthy. For example, take keen care of your horse’s diet by feeding it more omega-3 and less omega-6 fatty acids rich foods such as fiber and grains, respectively. The horse arthritis supplements which have these diet ingredients prevent the horse from severe pain problems and reduces joint inflammation. You should incorporate more joint supplements in the horse’s diet with adequate levels of glucosamine, which assists in controlling the enzymes responsible for soreness and joint swelling.

Moreover, horses need almost 1000-2000 IU of vitamin E in their diet per day. Hence, vitamin E supplements are also very useful in strengthening the immune system, muscle health, and nerve tissues. Other common contents that are present in these supplements for horses are herbs such as devil’s claw and yucca, which support the anti-inflammatory responses and combats muscle discomforts. Plus, SODs (superoxide dismutase) helps in defending the free radicals that cause cell damage in the horse joints. Therefore, it is the most operative antioxidant.

Other Joint Supplements for Horses with Arthritis

The joint-specific supplements for horses should include a proficient amount of calcium, chondroitin, and glucosamine derived from marine extracts. Companies sell these joint supplements in various ranges. Some of the popular products are Equine Joint Support Formula Two, Nature Vet/Ceva Joint Guard, KER Glucosaflex, IAH Calciplex, Technyflex, Canterflex, and Ranvet Flexure EQ. Other joint support supplements for senior horses include the Legacy, which is particularly formulated for the aged horses to remain active, flexible and comfortable. Ester-C and Vitamin E are added in them as ingredients to boost the immune system and overall health of the senior horses.

Horse Arthritis Medication

The horse arthritis medicines that are available can only be used with the prescription and permission of the veterinarian’s diagnosis. It is suitable if you thoroughly go through your horse’s regular checkup and take the decision afterward to whether use the medications only or decide for the serious treatment. The accessible prescription medicines are in the form of intravenous (IV), intra-articular (IA), and intramuscular (IM) joint medications. Adequan is a registered, FDA-approved drug that is also a disease modifier for DJD or arthritis. It helps in the new cartilage production aided by the chemical polysulfated glycosaminoglycan. Adequan can be found in both intra-articular and intramuscular forms. Another registered injectable solution is the Legend, which is available in the intravenous and intra-articular forms. It helps in the improvement of joint dysfunction and fetlock that the horse can witness owing to non-infectious synovitis.

Horse Arthritis Creams and Gels

There is a variety of creams and gels for treating horse arthritis and pain launched by different brands. Surpass® Topical Cream is used to cure and reduce inflammatory symptoms. It controls the pain in horses linked with arthritis in hock, knee, fetlock and neck joints. Another famous gel that is widely used is the Absorbine Veterinary Liniment Gel that is a topical analgesic for relieving joint pain and sore muscle problems.

There are oral pastes for horse arthritis too, such as Equioxx that can also be used for anti-inflammatory purposes. It contains a non-steroidal drug and can only be used on the order of a licensed vet. It should be noted that the horse with issues of hypersensitivity should not be given Equioxx or other NSAIDs at all.

How to Help a Horse with Arthritis?

Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that is meant to happen in a horse with old age, which experienced a lot of joint and cartilage wear and tear in its young days. If horses are carefully managed and keenly nested, they can fairly live the rest of their years. Remember, circulation is the main goal. You have to keep them active to alleviate the risks of increased inflammation due to an inactive lifestyle in senior years. You have to follow some guidelines to sustain its health and grace in your stable.

Maintain a moderate exercise regime for your horse to keep the blood flowing through the muscles and joints. As you know, even in humans, that the muscles that don’t move get rusty. The same is the case for horses; locomotion is a preeminent factor that prevents the inflammation and thus, horse arthritis too. A light to mediocre work activity can be allocated to the horse as long as it falls in the comfort zone of it.

It also depends on the extent and severity of the horse’s arthritis that how much it can move and accommodate the workload. For some horses, it is enough to graze on the pastures and saunter around the farm. For some, walking along their stalls is also a daily exercise. Just read the moods and comfort levels of your arthritic horse and respond accordingly.

The appropriate footing is a must. Hard footing can cause strains and concussions, while slight cushioning without being too soft can act as a shock absorber for them, aiding their gait. Refrain from taking your horse to uneven or rocky terrains, which can cause missteps or foot overwork.

Untrimmed hooves can cause strain by increasing the risk of twist and torques. Hence, remember to trim the hooves of your arthritic horse regularly.

As the horse reaches old age, it is prone to weight gain issues due to less physical activity of the horse. Also, if you know your horse is suffering through arthritis, you are naturally kind and generous to it by feeding it more and assigning lesser work. Your generosity can be costly to the horse. For that, you have to gauge your horse’s food and activity and keep a balance so that the weight doesn’t gain and hurt your arthritic horse. Consult your veterinarian to evaluate the caloric needs of the horse.
Work regularly with your vet and remain in contact with him to respond properly to the needs and requirements of your horse’s arthritis. Administer the dosage and indications of the drugs, creams, medications and ongoing treatment of your horse according to your veterinarian’s instructions and he knows when and what is best for your horse.

To know more about different health problems in horses, check this article “Health Problems in Horses – The Most Comprehensive Account of the Major Health Issues in Horses“.

Can You Ride a Horse with Arthritis?

Some tips will guide you on how and when to ride the horse with arthritis. Some special considerations to take into account while riding the arthritic horse are:

  • Take permission from your vet before deciding on your own on whether you should ride the horse or not. Your vet can recommend some additional therapies that can assist your horse, such as massage therapy, horse arthritis supplements, injections or drugs that would aid the process of riding.
  • Once you have got the approval of your horse’s doctor, you can continue with the warm-up routine for your arthritic horse. The warm-up routine should be gradual for the horse with arthritis as they have become weak as compared to their healthy horse companions. Walk them around your vicinity before introducing weight on them. Keep encouraging your horse to walk more until he is ready to bear your weight on the saddle. Once he has strengthened and lengthened enough, you can take the seat on it as its muscle stiffness deteriorates.
  • Avoid high-energy and impact activities like jumping etc. Such physical exertion can destabilize the horse’s health and routine. Don’t disturb the mood of the horse by pushing it and expecting it to perform the high agility stunts that it used to do. Lower your expectations now and let it breathe at ease in its skin and zone.
  • A horse also needs to cool down at a gradual pace after workout, just like a human needs to do post-workout stretches to avoid muscle stiffness and soreness. Don’t make your horse standstill in the stalls right after you have ridden it. It will neigh with pain the next day. A post-ride stretch with the application of horse arthritis gels and creams would work as a massage for it and cool down the horse in the right manner.

Aging is an inevitable phenomenon for all living things. As we age, our organs, muscles, bones deteriorate. If we don’t take care of ourselves in our youth, then we can fall prey to the process of aging earlier then our age fellows. Just like us, horses also need proper care and attention towards their physical needs so that the untimely wear and tear of bones, joints, muscles, and cartilages can be dodged. By paying close attention to your horse and managing its diet, physical activities, workload, mental wellbeing, hygiene, supplements and training, you can ensure that your horse remains fit for longer age and can combat aging diseases for as long as it can.

Moreover, the senior horses that are already fallen victim to arthritis should be regularly consulted with the veterinarians to make significant adjustments to the diet and management. You should learn to listen to your horse’s needs to calibrate according to your horse’s arthritis symptoms by regulating through horse arthritis supplements, horse arthritis treatment, medications, and other necessary joint therapies. Loosen the reins of your horse and keep it happy!

To know more about different health problems in senior horses, check this article “Senior Horse Health Problems – Potential Risks, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment“.