Joint Problems and Arthritis in Horses and Ponies

How to support the joints of your horse or pony with the right supplements?


Valerie De Clerck, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine



Arthritis, One Hell of a Diseases in Horses…


Arthritis is the most common cause of lameness 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. 

Drawing fetlock joint horse

LET’S FIRST TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE NORMAL ANATOMY OF A JOINT IN A HORSE.


A joint is simply the place in your horse’s body where two bones are connected with each other. In order to move over each other, the bones are covered by a soft cushion, called articular 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 synovial fluid and an elastic outer layer which allows movement of the joint.

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.

drawing horse jumping pain fetlock joint

FROM INFLAMMATION (ARTHRITIS) TO DAMAGED CARTILAGE (OSTEOARTHRITIS)

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 DAMMAGE


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.

Boswellia serrata

SUPPLEMENTS CAN HELP TO SUPPORT THE JOINTS, BUT THERE IS NO CURE FOR DAMAGED CARTILAGE.


Once the cartilage is damaged it can not be repaired. Therefore, early treatment - and even better - prevention of arthritis is important.


When your horse is lame, it is important to always contact your veterinarian. In the treatment of arthritis the first thing to do is alleviate inflammation and pain. It is also important to prevent the joint from becoming stiff.


Supplements and nutraceuticals can help to support your horse with joint problems in the long run. As mentioned before, cartilage defects can not be repaired, so products who claim this effect are worthless. However, feed supplements can help to reduce inflammation and pain in order to improve mobility in horses with arthritis.

FLEXI MIX is a balanced combination of 7 plants with natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects to support the joints.


  • Boswellia serrata is an Indian plant with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Boswellia inhibits the production of inflammatory mediators, which damage the cartilage. 
  • The anti-inflammatory property of curcuma longa has been known for centuries. Curcuma is commonly used to treat joint problems and has been shown to reduce pain and improve mobility in both humans and horses with (osteo)arthritis.
  • Equisetum arvense helps to maintain the flexibility of the joint ligaments and capsule.
  • Ribes nigrum has a natural cortisone-like effect by boosting the production of anti-inflammatory hormones in the adrenal cortex. It also reduces the producten of uric acid, that can precipitate in the joints, which causes pain. 
  • Origanum vulgare is an important antioxidant.
  • Spiraea ulmaria contains salicylic acids, which has an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect.
  • Aesculus promotes blood flow, which helps to reduce the swelling of the joint. 
  • MSM is rich in sulphur, the third most common mineral in horses and a very important element of cartilage. 


SCIENTIFIC REFERENCES


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