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Osteoarthritis in horses: definition & causes

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that leads to a progressive deterioration of the cartilage, causing pain and lameness. This nasty ailment is the most common cause of lameness in horses. Osteoarthritis can present itself in various parts of the body, from the legs and back to the neck. In this blog, we explain what osteoarthritis is, what causes it and how to spot it.

Written by
Valerie de Clerck
Published

Osteoarthritis in horses 101

What is osteoarthritis in horses?

A joint is a place where two bones are joined together in the body in a way that enables them to bend and move. The ligaments and joint capsule give the two bones extra stability while cartilage covers and protects the bone ends. For your horse’s ease of movement, the joint space is filled with synovial fluid.
In sum, a joint is made up of different structures that are closely interlinked. If one part of the joint is out of sync, you soon end up with a domino effect impairing the functioning of the other parts.
Arthritis is a general inflammation of the joint. If the cartilage around the joint is also damaged, the condition is classified as osteoarthrosis. In that case, the entire joint comes under pressure, causing pain and lameness.

What are the causes of osteoarthritis in horses?

While osteoarthritis can have many causes, some horses and ponies are simply more prone to joint problems than others. Older horses, sport horses, horses that are overweight or had joint surgery before are particularly prone to this degenerative joint disease.

The condition has two main causes:

1. Abnormal pressure on normal cartilage

Your horse’s joint cartilage is perfectly healthy but is being damaged by excess pressure. Causes that spring to mind are intensive training, excessive strain, a fracture, abnormal posture…

2. Normal pressure on abnormal cartilage

The pressure on the joint isn’t abnormally high but the joint isn’t as healthy as it should be. That combination leads to further degeneration, like OCD for instance, a condition characterised by loose cartilage and/or bone fragments in the joint.

How to spot osteoarthritis in your horse?

From stiffness to difficulties chewing, to balking at certain movements: numerous indications can point to osteoarthritis. In this
blog post
we list the main symptoms.