Is your older horse developing a hitch in his get-along? Equine osteoarthritis is a common condition in the aging horse.

Osteoarthritis (also known as Degenerative Joint Disease) involves joint inflammation and progressive degeneration of the cartilage lining. It also involves changes in the bone and soft tissues of the joint.

Arthritis is thought to affect more than half of all horses over the age of 15. It is also the leading cause of lameness in horses. [1]

Horses engaged in high-intensity exercise, such as racing, may develop osteoarthritis at an earlier age due to wear-and-tear. [2]

There is no cure for arthritis, but with proper management, many horses can continue to live comfortably and maintain a good level of fitness.

A balanced feeding program that provides anti-inflammatory nutrients can help to support healthy joints. In addition, modified exercise routines, medications and therapeutic bodywork can also manage arthritic pain in your horse.

If you suspect your horse has arthritis, submit your horse’s diet online for free guidance from our equine nutritionists. Addressing this issue early on is critical to support your horse’s comfort and ease of movement.

Arthritis in Horses

Equine osteoarthritis is defined as a group of disorders characterized by progressive deterioration of the articular cartilage and other components of the joint. [2]

The major symptom of osteoarthritis in horses is pain manifesting as lameness, leading to a loss of functionality. Horses may also experience muscle stiffness, loss of performance, reluctance to work or swelling in the joints.

Osteoarthritis is not the only type of arthritis in equines, but it is the most prevalent and is what most laypeople mean when they refer to arthritis in horses.

Arthritis may also be caused by repetitive strain on the joints, such as the heavy workloads of performance horses, which can causes cartilage damage and erosion. In these horses, the metacarpophalangeal joint (fetlock) is the most likely to be affected.

Other types of arthritis include:

  • Septic arthritis: a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when a joint becomes infected as a result of an injection, injury or surgery [3]
  • Traumatic arthritis: occurs after an injury, such as synovitis, or inflammation of the synovial membrane, joint capsule inflammation, chip fractures within the joint, ligament, or meniscus tears. Gradually, osteoarthritis can develop in the affected areas [3]

If you suspect your horse has arthritis or issues affecting joint mobility, seek out veterinary attention for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

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Osteoarthritis Diagnosis in Horses

To diagnose osteoarthritis, the veterinarian observes the horse’s movement and conducts a physical examination. Questions are asked about the horse’s history, including current and former exercise programs. [6]

Diagnosis also typically involves flexion tests, in which pressure is applied to the limbs. These tests will temporarily make any existing joint pain more obvious.

Once the affected joint is identified, the horse receives a nerve block to anesthetize a part of the leg. After each block, the horse is prompted to move. When the lameness improves after a certain block, that indicates the probl