Arthritis: Managing and preventing arthritis

By Gil Riley

19 November 2009 10:06

Far from being a life sentence, with the right approach, it's possible to fight arthritis and give your horse an active, enjoyable life. Vet Gil Riley helps us prepare for battle.

1 Attention to conformation
Is the foot excessively long and putting excessive pressure on the lower joints of the leg? Is the footfall even? Uneven footfall over a period of time can strain the supportive ligaments around joints and risk causing joint instability and, as a result, arthritis. Is limb conformation correct? Mild deviations in limb shape can often be compensated for by remedial farriery, ensuring concussion is spread throughout the limb better than the abnormality would permit.

2 Early diagnosis and treatment
Have any lameness investigated by your vet at an early stage. The earlier arthritis is detected, the less damage will have been caused, and the greater the probability that correct treatment will return your horse to an athletic career.

3 Regular exercise
In an arthritic horse, the only thing worse than too much exercise is too little. Not enough work means the natural mechanisms of repair and maintenance in the joint are not stimulated to act as they should. Too little exercise also means the circulation of blood to the joint, with all its oxygen and food necessary for cellular repair, is less than ideal. Therefore, a diagnosis of arthritis in a horse must not be mistaken for a life sentence of being locked in his stable. If anything, once the initial acute inflammation and swelling has been brought under control by your vet, it’s more important that an arthritic horse be out in the field moving around than it is an unaffected horse.

4 Joint supplements
We can be reasonably confident that feeding a joint supplement containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate or hyaluronic acid can play some role in helping to control inflammation and supporting the cartilage against the effects of further wear and tear.

5 Lowering expectations
A diagnosis of arthritis can convince owners that their horse only has a future as a field companion. Actually, this rarely proves true. Provided the pain of the arthritis is countered and its progress slowed by appropriate care from your vet, most horses can go on to lead an active life.