Equine Arthritis Causes and Concerns

As the weather has turned and the temperature has dropped, many of us with older horses may have to deal with them suffering from Arthritis.

Arthritis is often referred to Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). This is a condition that affects many horses. Arthritis is not only painful, but it makes it very difficult for a horse to move around. The condition is normally characterised as a slowly developing chronic disease of the joint in which the joint surface (Cartilage)wears down, resulting in pain and lameness.

Arthritis can’t be treated, but in most cases, it can be managed. The condition is often and inevitable change as a horse grows older, and often is the reason for a horse to be retired from work.

Some of the symptoms of Arthritis can include:

· Stiffness that a horse can normally warm out of.

· Joint swelling

· Lameness

There are another couple of reasons that a horse may get arthritis. One is Trauma to the joint (e.g. hard work over many years), and wound or infection which can cause Septic Arthritis

Septic Arthritis is an acute form of Degenerative Joint Disease, that is caused by a bacterial infection. This is extremely detrimental to the horse and can be difficult to treat, as it is hard to get antibiotics into the joint capsule. Septic Arthritis can be seen in foals that have compromised immune systems or systemic disease, and also if there has been a traumatic injury near a joint.

Your vet will be able to diagnose arthritis in your horse by carrying out a physical examination, a lameness exam and some x-rays, which will help assess the severity of the arthritis, especially if the horse is still in work.

Depending on the severity of the arthritis, your vet may prescribe one of many courses of management for your horse. There is no treatment for Arthritis, only ways to help manage the symptoms and prevent it progressing too quickly. One option of treatment is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Another option is oral or injectable joint supplement such as hyaluronic acid or glucosamine, may also be prescribed. Direct injections into the affected joint with corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid may also help. New technologies such as the injection of stem cells into the affected joints are also being developed and offered by some vets. Although it is not wise to ride your horse when they are lame, keeping your horse moving will help and arthritic horse maintain suppleness and joint mobility. If an arthritic older horse is placed on box rest, they are more likely to become even more stiff and sore that if they were out grazing in the fields.

A horse with arthritis can be managed with a proper exercise programme, medications, supplements and even direct joint therapy. The extent of the management will vary greatly depending on the age of the horse and the amount of work that they do.

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