Arthritis in horses, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a chronic condition of the horse’s joint or joints. Arthritis is caused by one of two scenarios - the cartilage wears down on the joint surfaces, or there’s an infection in the joint capsule. For the wear and tear variety of arthritis, a horse’s joints will start to have bone scraping bone as the cartilage is worn away. Inflammation and pain is the result. For the septic version of arthritis, an injury or wound has created an infection in the joint capsule.
The “wear and tear” type of arthritis in horses often leads to stiffness. As a horse owner and rider, your horse’s gait might be shortened, his back might not swing so well, and he might feel choppy under saddle. Usually a horse will warm up out of this stiffness as your ride progresses.
More severe cases of arthritis lead to lameness. You might also be able to feel heat in an arthritic joint, or even be able to see swelling.
Of course your Veterinarian should be involved with any condition that you might notice in your horse. Sometimes x-rays are done to get a more exact picture of what’s going on in your horse’s body.
There are lots of options of how you can support the horse with arthritis, ranging from diet changes to supplements to joint injections. You can also make sure your horse is not overweight or obese, and keep up with an exercise regime.
The horse that doesn’t exercise will find his arthritis getting worse! If he’s sore, he’s apt to use the joint less. This puts additional stress on the other legs and joints, as well as allow calcium deposits to invade the joint, possibly causing fusion and definitely causing lack of mobility. Exercise is key!
You can also spend a lot of time warming your horse up. Many arthritic horses do well with a lot of walking, and mane like a little warming pack on their joints before a workout. After exercise, ice therapy can help reduce inflammation and take away any discomfort. It’s easy, and will definitely make your horse feel better.