Osteoarthritis & Joint HealthBy: Dr. Lydia Gray
Osteoarthritis, also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), is one of the most common conditions affecting performance and pleasure horses. Osteoarthritis is progressive and permanent deterioration of articular cartilage, the tissue that lines the ends of bones. The joints most frequently affected by osteoarthritis include the knee, fetlock, coffin and pastern (where it is often referred to as "ringbone"). Arthritis is also common in the hock, where it may be called "bone spavin." Healthy articular cartilage provides a smooth, slippery surface that allows free movement and contributes to the shock absorbing properties of the joint. The compromised articular cartilage seen in osteoarthritis can result in stiffness, shortness of stride and obvious lameness. Osteoarthritis often results from simple wear and tear of daily exercise, but may also be caused by poor conformation or trauma.
There is now extensive research showing oral joint supplements are safe, well-absorbed and beneficial in supporting joint health. The two most commonly used ingredients— Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate—appear to work better when given together to inhibit breakdown and stimulate growth of cartilage. There is also evidence that Hyaluronic Acid is important both in halting inflammation and assisting with tissue repair. Other joint supplement ingredients include:
- Cetyl myristoleate
- ASU (avocado unsaponifiables)
- Vitamin C and minerals as co-factors for cartilage production
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Hydrolyzed Collagen/Gelatin
- Herbs for pain and inflammation (e.g. Devil’s Claw, Yucca, Boswellia, Bromelain)
It is important to diagnose and begin treatment of osteoarthritis as early as possible to help slow or prevent progression of the disease. Diagnosis begins with a complete history and physical examination, including palpation. Next, the veterinarian observes the horse for soundness (with and without flexion tests) while jogged in-hand, lunged and/or ridden. Nerve blocks may be helpful in localizing pain. Once a problem in a particular joint is identified, it may be examined further through x-rays (radiography), ultrasound, bone scan (nuclear scintigraphy), CT scan and/or MRI.
Osteoarthritis is usually treated with a combination of therapies, depending on the age and activity level of the horse and how severe the osteoarthritis is. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as bute (phenylbutazone), Equioxx® or Surpass® may be prescribed to reduce pain. Injectable medications such as Adequan® and Legend® are commonly used to slow progression and stimulate healing.
Additional therapy may include icing/cold hosing, pressure wraps and newer treatments such as extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) and interleukin receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) therapy. In addition, the appropriate combination of stall rest, exercise and turnout must be established. Corrective trimming and shoeing as well as training modifications may also be recommended.
- What treatment protocol is best for my horse’s specific condition?
- Will this protocol be able to return him to his former level of performance?
- Can I still jump my horse?
- When will I know it’s time to retire him?
Further Reading for You
From our site:
From the SmartPak Ask the Vet Blog:
From The Horse Journal:
- Hyaluronic Acid Rules in Severe Joint Problems, May 2002
- Joint Nutraceuticals: Lots of choices, price is key, December 2005
- New Generation Joint Products Offer More, October 2003
- Devil’s Claw Fights Pain From Osteoarthritis, June 2001
- Devil’s Claw Leads in Herbals for Osteoarthritis, January 2000
Further Reading for Your Veterinarian
Bergin BJ, Pierce SW, Bramlage LR, Stromberg A. Oral hyaluronan gel reduces post operative tarsocrural effusion in the yearling thoroughbred. Equine Vet J. 2006;38(4):375-378.
Du J, White N, Eddington ND. Evidence for oral absorption of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in horses. Biopharm Drug Dispos 25:109-116.
Frisbie DD, Kawcak CE, McIlwraith CW. Evaluation of oral avocado/soybean unsaponifiables using an experimental model of equine Osteoarthritis. In: Proceedings of the 52nd Annaul AAEP Convention; pp 570-571.
Trumble T., editor. Therapies for joint disease. Vet Clin Equine 2005;21:3.