Supplements targeting joint health are some of the most sought-after dietary supplements for horses, especially due to the high prevalence of joint injuries and deterioration later in life.

But which equine joint supplements actually work and which are all hype? Many of the ingredients often touted for improving joint health have limited research in horses.

And some of the most popular supplements believed to work have been demonstrated ineffective when actually studied in equine populations. (You may be surprised by which ingredients DON’T work.)

That being said, there are some compounds that have been well-researched in horses and demonstrate efficacy for improving metrics of joint comfort, health and function.

In this article, we will review the research behind 8 of the most popular joint supplements for horses and help you decide which are worth your money and which should be avoided.

Equine Supplements for Joint Health

Joints consists of cartilage which connects to bones, acting as padding while encapsulating the joint. Synovial fluid keeps the joint lubricated and limits friction, or wear-and-tear, between the bones. [1]

As horses age, perform heavy work, or become injured, their joints can become weak and damaged in several ways. The composition of synovial fluid may change, resulting in less lubricant for the joint. There can be inflammation in the cartilage causing it to deteriorate. This can cause significant pain to the horse and hinder performance and comfort. [2]

When the cartilage of the joint begins to degenerate, the horse might be diagnosed with osteoarthritis. This condition can have several consequences including: [1]

  • Persistent pain
  • Reduced training days
  • Early retirement
  • Lameness
  • Euthanasia

Senior or heavily exercised horses are likely to benefit from a supplement that supports joint health. Choosing the right supplement for your horse can be overwhelming. Some factors to consider are the current health status of your horse, other goals (ie. weight gain or loss) and demonstrated efficacy in horses.

Dietary supplements to support joint health may have several mechanisms of action that achieve any of the following: [3] [4]

  1. Slow the rate of or inhibit enzymes that deteriorate cartilage
  2. Increase capacity for cells called chondrocytes to synthesize collagen and other important proteins
  3. Improve synthesis of hyaluronic acid by synovial cells
  4. Improve synovial fluid composition
  5. Reduce inflammation and/or oxidative stress
  6. Manage pain

Here we provide a summary of the potential mechanisms, bioavailability, safety and efficacy of some of the most popular supplements available on the equine market today. We also rate the ingredients on the strength of the evidence in horses supporting their efficacy or inefficacy.

Before adding any new supplement to your horse’s diet, it is recommended to consult with an equine nutritionist or other equine healthcare professional. You can submit your horse’s diet online for a complementary evaluation and to receive individualized recommendations for your horse.

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Top 8 Joint Supplements for Horses

1. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

Found in alfalfa and grains, methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM, is a readily available natural form of sulfur. It is well-tolerated by horses and is considered one of the safest supplements to add to your equine feeding program.

Sulfur is important in the horse’s diet as a component of glucosamine and collagen which are found in connective tissue and cartilage.

Proposed Mechanisms of Action:[5]

  • Decreases levels of pro-inflammatory compounds interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) which can help lessen swelling of the joint
  • Acts as an antioxidant by neutralizing free radicals that cause damage to cells
  • By