JOINT PROBLEMS AND ARTHRITIS IN HORSES AND PONIES

DO FEED SUPPLEMENTS HELP FOR (OSTEO)ARTHRITIS IN HORSES?


Valerie De Clerck, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine



Arthritis is the most common cause of lameness in horses regardless of their discipline or occupation. When your horse has an inflammation of the joint it is important to alleviate pain and to reduce the inflammation as soon as possible. Always contact your veterinarian for advice.


Feed supplements can be an important part of the prevention and treatment of joint problems. There are several types of joint supplements on the market and it is therefore important to choose wisely. In this article we will explain you what (osteo)arthritis is and which supplements might help to support the joints of your horse.


what is (osteo)arthritis in horses?


Arthritis can be simply defined as inflammation of the joint. It can occur suddenly after trauma or gradually due to intensive training or ageing of the horse. 


If the cartilage of the joint is also damaged, we call it osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis can not be cured, and therefore reducing inflammation, pain and preventing further damage is crucial when your horse has arthritis. 



LET’S have a look at THE NORMAL ANATOMY OF A JOINT IN A HORSE


Drawing fetlock joint horse

A joint is simply the place in your horse’s body where two bones are connected. To move over each other, the bones are covered by a soft cushion, called the cartilage. The two bones are further secured by ligaments and the joint capsule. 


To allow a smooth movement, the joint cavity is filled with synovial fluid. The joint capsule has an inner layer (synovium) which regulates the amount of synovial fluid and an elastic outer layer that allows movement of the joint.


Drawing fetlock joint horse

DID YOU KNOW


that a defect in the cartilage can hardly recover? Total renewal of collagen - one of the main components in cartilage - would take over 100 years…  Correct, that exceeds by far the lifetime of your horse.

WHY ARE SPORT HORSES PRONE TO JOINT PROBLEMS?


In sport horses, who train intensively, arthritis is often caused by a repetitive high impact loading on the joint. This leads to inflammation of the joint capsule.



FROM ARTHRITIS (inflammation) TO OSTEOARTHRITIS (damaged cartilage)

horse fetlock joint arthritis stage I

STAGE I: inflammation of the joint capsule


The joint capsule is inflamed, swollen and red. The joint capsule releases substances (degrading enzymes and cytokines) which damage the cartilage. 


The amount of joint fluid increases and the joint is swollen. The swelling causes pain and discomfort for the horse and leads to micro-instability of the joint, which again damages the cartilage.


drawing fetlock joint horse arthritis stge 2

STAGE II: cartilage damage = fibrillation


The substances are further damaging the cartilage, which is called fibrillation.

drawing fetlock joint horse arthritis stage 3

STAGE III: chronic inflammation


The inflammation of the joint becomes chronic and the cartilage damage goes down to the bone. The cushion between the bones is now almost gone.

drawing fetlock joint horse arthritis stage 4

STAGE IV:damage to the bone


The bones are now moving over each other without a cushion. This damages the bone and is very painful. The joint capsule is no longer elastic but became firm and rigid. The joint is stiffer and limited in its ability to move and shock absorption gets worse.

WHICH SUPPLEMENTS CAN HELP TO SUPPORT the joints of MY horse?

Boswellia serrata
Image: the resin of the Boswellia Serrata tree is a very good natural painkiller that has been used for centuries to treat joint problems in both humans and animals.

Once the cartilage is damaged it can not be repaired. Therefore, early treatment - and even better - prevention of arthritis is important. The right nutrition, a training program adapted to your horse's needs and proper shoeing will get you a long way.


When choosing a feed supplement to support the joints of your horse can choose between two major "groups" of supplements.


1. Feed supplements containing building blocks for the joints


Building blocks for the joints such as MSM, chondroitin, glucosamine and silicon are important for keeping cartilage healthy in the long run. These substances are very useful to feed young growing horses or horses that do not have any problems yet. 

If your horse is older than 12 years, if he is trained intensively or if he has known joint issues, it is recommended to combine the building blocks with a feed supplement that also support the natural defence of the joint (see below). 

Remember that once the cartilage is damaged it cannot be repaired. Products claiming this effect are worthless...

2. Feed supplements containing natural painkillers and anti-inflammatory plants to support a horse with arthritis.


When your horse is lame and the joint is inflamed (arthritis) it is very important to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. 


In addition, you can support the joints of your horse with plant-based ingredients with natural painkilling and anti-inflammatory effects, such as Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata), turmeric (Curcuma longa), blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) and meadowsweet (Spiraea ulmaria). 


Plants like horse-chestnut promote blood flow, which has a beneficial effect on the healing of the joints.

FLEXI MIX PLUS (FLEXI MIX + CURCA-FLEX LIQUID) is an excellent combination of building blocks for the cartilage and plants to support the natural defence of the joints.

SCIENTIFIC REFERENCES


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