You will be the first person to notice the symptoms of arthritis in your horse. You will have become intimately familiar, over the years, with the way your horse moves. You will notice when that early morning stiffness do not fade away after exercise. You will be the one who sees the swelling round the fetlocks, knees or hocks. Worst case scenario, you will be the one who calls in the vet.
The first thing to do is to try not to worry too much. Arthritis is common in horses. It cannot be cured, but it can be managed to relieve your horse’s pain and restore some of its freedom of movement.
What is arthritis? Well, its other name is Degenerative Joint Disease (D.J.D.) and that tells you what is happening. Horses’ joints consist of a pad of cartilage between the two bones; this pad is lubricated by synovial fluid. All of this is contained in a joint capsule.
For a variety of reasons – infection, trauma, or just plain wear and tear – the cartilage is worn down, the synovial fluid leaks away and becomes thin and the body responds by sending in chemicals which try and lock the joint into place – hence the swelling so typical of arthritis. It is the body’s way of preventing movement so the joint has time to heal naturally.
Unfortunately this natural cure is not effective. The chemicals that try to immobilize the joint set off a vicious circle of changes that result in ever greater loss of movement; scar tissue builds up round the joint and your horse experiences more pain and worse lameness.
Your horse needs help. What can you do, with the help and advice of your vet?
A good management plan has many features. Exercise is a great preventive measure and also helps to maintain freedom of movement in an afflicted joint. You will take more care than ever to see that your horse is correctly shod and trimmed, to make sure that weight is transmitted evenly up to the joint with every step. Your vet may well treat the joint in question with powerful anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids and as the name suggests they will drive away the swelling round the joint. But remember that doesn’t mean the joint has been cured. Your vet may administer other drugs and many other treatments, from ultra-sound to stem cell injections, are being developed,
You will also want to supplement your horses’ diet with substances that help its body make new cartilage and which also replace the lost synovial fluid. Those produced by T.E.N. Supplements, for example, are rich in such substances as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, and also with hyaluronic acid, a synthetic joint fluid.
So, don’t despair if your horse has equine arthritis. There’s plenty you can do to help.
Tom Gunn’s horse Maximus has a spot of equine arthritis. Max is taking T.E.N. Supplements and thankfully he is responding well to treatment.