8 Facts Veterinarians Wish You Knew about DJD

8 Facts Veterinarians Wish You Knew about DJD

Check out these insights to understand your horse’s risk of degenerative joint disease (DJD) — and how you and your veterinarian can work together to help manage the disease.

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From American Regent Animal Health


Veterinarians are diagnosing more and more horses with degenerative joint disease (DJD), a major cause of equine lameness.[1] To help these horses — and their riders — American Regent Animal Health, maker of Adequan® i.m. (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan), talked to a group of leading equine veterinarians. Here are their top insights about DJD.

1. DJD is an equal opportunity disease

Equine DJD, commonly referred to as osteoarthritis, may cause lameness in horses of all ages, breeds and disciplines. It is characterized by progressive deterioration of the articular cartilage along with changes in bone and soft tissues of the joint. Veterinarians diagnose DJD, in part, by looking at radiographs.

Dr. Kyla Ortved, who is the Jacques Jenny Endowed Term Chair of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, said she sees a lot of pre-purchase X-rays from people looking to buy young horses. “I’m finding that a lot of those pretty young horses have radiographic changes,” Dr. Ortved says.

2. Longer careers, more DJD

Performance horses are continuing their careers into later life. Dr. Zach Loppnow, an associate veterinarian at Anoka Equine Veterinary Services in Minnesota, says horses 15 years and older make up a large percentage of patients at his hospital. Because these older horses are working longer, he thinks he and his colleagues see more DJD when looking at the lameness profiles. “Greater than half of what we’re doing is osteoarthritis of some kind,” Dr. Loppnow says. “We see it a lot.”

3. It takes two — your vet and you

A proactive approach for the average performance horse should include twice-a-year lameness exams along with hoof radiographs to guide the farrier, according to Dr. Kent Allen, owner of Virginia Equine Imaging and a founder of the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology (ISELP). “Bringing the horse in twice a year for a lameness exam is what you can do that will undoubtedly prolong this horse's athletic life,” Dr. Allen said. “We can detect arthritis early and come up with a rational plan." 

4. DJD diagnostics are better than ever

The veterinarians agreed improved diagnostic tools that are both easier to use and more available result in more horses being diagnosed with DJD. This is good news, because it means veterinarians are better equipped to catch DJD during exams earlier in the disease process. Early identification could mean less time wasted on therapies that might not address the cause of your horse’s lameness.

5. The earlier the better

Because DJD gets worse over time, it’s important to manage it early in the disease process when treatment is going to be most effective for horses. “You’re going to be able to [help] them. They're going to be successful at their job, and they're going to keep doing the job,” Dr. Allen said. “And that’s where I've focused my efforts on use of Adequan i.m., and I’ve found it very successful.” 

6. Treat the disease, not just the signs

As the only FDA-approved equine PSGAG (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) for DJD in horses, Adequan i.m. actually treats the disease, not just the clinical signs.[2],[3] Dr. Gary White, owner of Sallisaw Equine Clinic in Oklahoma, says, “Adequan i.m. is certainly a cornerstone of my approach to treating DJD.” He encourages horse owners to complete the seven-dose series and repeat it as needed. “I've found it to be extremely useful. My clients have found it to be extremely useful. And I'm going to continue to keep it as a cornerstone,” Dr. White said. Talk with your veterinarian about whether Adequan i.m. is right for your horse.

7. Not all products are created equally

All the veterinarians considered FDA approval important for DJD products. Joint supplements and nutraceuticals are not regulated by the FDA. Unlike with FDA-approved products, manufacturers of supplements and nutraceuticals are not required to prove safety or effectiveness, nor are they required to verify ingredient makeup or manufacturing processes.

Dr. Christopher E. Kawcak, director of Equine Clinical Services at Colorado State University, said he values FDA approval. “I think most people are unaware of what the FDA actually does to protect the consumer,” Dr. Kawcak said, “and once they realize that, a lot of times they start to realize that [products] are approved for a reason.” 

8. Trust is worth a lot

As an FDA-approved product, Adequan i.m. has been proven to reduce inflammation, restore synovial joint lubrication, repair joint cartilage and reverse the disease cycle.[2],[3] Dr. Robin Dabareiner, who worked at Texas A&M University for 23 years before working at Waller Equine Hospital in Texas, appreciates that Adequan i.m. is backed by FDA-approval. “I try to talk to clients, telling them I feel it’s a bigger bang for your buck if you go with the intramuscular Adequan [than unproven supplements],” Dr. Dabareiner said.

BRIEF SUMMARY: Prior to use please consult the product insert, a summary of which follows: CAUTION: Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian. INDICATIONS: Adequan® i.m. is recommended for the intramuscular treatment of non-infectious degenerative and/or traumatic joint dysfunction and associated lameness of the carpal and hock joints in horses. CONTRAINDICATIONS: There are no known contraindications to the use of intramuscular Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan. WARNINGS: Do not use in horses intended for human consumption. Not for use in humans. Keep this and all medications out of the reach of children. PRECAUTIONS: The safe use of Adequan® i.m. in horses used for breeding purposes, during pregnancy, or in lactating mares has not been evaluated. For customer care, or to obtain product information, visit www.adequan.com. To report an adverse event please contact American Regent, Inc. at 1-888-354-4857 or email pv@americanregent.com.

Each of the veterinarians who participated in this article are paid consultants for American Regent Animal Health.

Trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

© 2021, American Regent, Inc.

PP-AI-US-0673 07/2021

[1] McIlwraith CW, Frisbie DD, Kawcak CE, van Weeren PR. Joint Disease in the Horse. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, 2016; 33-48.

[2] Adequan® i.m. Package Insert, Rev 1/19.

[3] Burba DJ, Collier MA, DeBault LE, Hanson-Painton O, Thompson HC, Holder CL: In vivo kinetic study on uptake and distribution of intramuscular tritium-labeled polysulfated glycosaminoglycan in equine body fluid compartments and articular cartilage in an osteochondral defect model. J Equine Vet Sci 1993; 13: 696-703.