Description of Arthritis :
Arthritis means soreness or inflammation of the horse's joints. The damage can be to the inside of the joints or to the ligaments that surround it. Inflammation increases the amount of fluid in the joint and this usually causes swelling in that area which is very painful for the horse when the joint is flexed. The areas most commonly affected by Arthritis include the upper knee joint, front fetlocks, hocks, and coffin joints in the forefeet. Arthritis is also found, but less commonly, in the spine and neck
Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is the term used for very severe arthritis when the joint actually begins to break down
Symptoms of Equine Arthritis :
Swelling in one or more joints.
Stiffness around the joints.
Joints that look red and can be warm to the touch.
Constant or recurring pain in a joint that has no obvious cause.
Sudden difficulty in moving or using a joint.
Causes of Equine Arthritis :
There are many causes for equine arthritis. These range from:
Impact Trauma - Competitive activities put a great deal of additional stress on a horse's joints. The impact on the front legs when a horse jumps over a six-foot jump and lands on his front feet is quite considerable.
Dressage requires horses to move their center of gravity more to the rear, putting more stress on the hind limbs. Some of the movements, such as the shoulder-in, can cause severe joint stress particularly on the hock. Arthritis can afflict dressage horses quite severely.
Over-Exertion - if your horse has been overworked the joints may present symptoms of arthritis.
Infection - The most common infections can be caused by puncture wounds to the joints. If there is obvious lameness and a deep wound close to a joint, tendon sheath or bursa, a vet should be contacted urgently.
Mineral or Dietary Deficiency - When minerals are not present in adequate amounts bones and cartilage are not as strong as they should be. Normal wear and tear is not naturally and little areas of damage get bigger eventually causing inflammation because the joint cannot work as it should. This inflammation is what causes pain.
Old age - A horse's risk of developing chronic arthritis/ degenerative joint disease (DJD) increases with age. In some cases degenerative arthritis may be hereditary
Poor conformation - Conformation varies according to the purpose for which the horse was intended. Bad conformation may not be an unsoundness in itself, but it may often lead to Arthritis if the horse is not conformed for the job it is doing. This would lead to stress on joints which were never intended to bear such stress thus leading to the horse developing Arthritis.
The good news is that there is a myriad of treatments available that can help a horse with arthritis. What will apply to your horse in particular depends on the severity of the damage. If the arthritis is in the early stages and not affecting the horse's quality of life too much, there are many extremely good herbal and holistic remedies which can be accessed on the internet. These include Glucosamine based products and MSM products. Many of these types of products have been reported by various horse owners to have been helpful for their horses with this condition. It is however a case of trial and error. What works for some horses may not work for another
If discomfort and symptoms are more serious and if there is any infection whatsoever, you must seek veterinary advice. The longer infection is present, the more difficult and costly it will be to treat, and the more likely it is to result in permanent lameness. Veterinary treatment may include anti-inflammatory drugs such as bute and corticosteroids and in some cases the vet may consider it beneficial to inject medication straight into the joint itself.
Proper nutrition and dietary supplements will also be of great benefit.
Symptoms can also be relieved through gentle in-hand exercise.
Your horse may respond simply to rest for a period of weeks to months. In most cases this will mean that the horse is confined to a stable. Do not be tempted to turn the horse out during this time. Even though you are not riding him, he could still gallop or leap about and cause more damage to the inflamed joints.
Weight control and proper shoeing are also beneficial in treating arthritis. Boot wraps can help improve circulation thus alleviating symptoms.
Getting your horse to an equine pool would be particularly beneficial for rehabilitation of limbs affected with arthritis.
Bioflow magnetic products are considered to be very helpful to horses suffering with arthritis. The Bioflow magnets are the only magnets that have actually been researched by the Arthritis Research Campaign and tested for their effectiveness. Bioflow is also registered as a class 1 medical device so beware when buying or trying cheaper alternatives.
A combination of treatment methods will yield the best results.
If, in spite of all efforts, severe chronic arthritis remains and the horse has a persistently painful joint with little movement, your vet may consider it possible to restore soundness by surgically fusing the affected joint. This is occasionally used for the pastern and lower hock joints but only as a last resort after all other forms of treatment have been tried.
There are many treatments being researched for arthritis. Try and keep yourself aware of any new possibilities that may arise for the treatment of arthritis by keeping in touch with your vet, reading equine newsletters and checking internet forums.