Learn how to treat and manage the pain of arthritis in your horse.
By Dr. Thomas R. Lenz for The American Quarter Horse Journal | October 14, 2009
As the weather is turning colder, I notice that my 29-year-old American Quarter Horse gelding and I are sharing the same problem first thing in the morning – stiff joints and a touch of arthritis.
The aging process brings on some inevitable changes in horses, like in us, and one of the most common is arthritis. It has been estimated that 20 percent of the horses in the United States are older than 15, and most can expect to live well into their 30s or beyond. Older horses are subject to a number of health conditions, including a shift in nutritional requirements, that must be managed, but the development of arthritis is one of the most serious.
Arthritis can cause chronic pain, resulting in a decreased ability to eat, walk and enjoy retirement. Although horses with poor conformation or serious joint injuries during their working life are most prone to the development of arthritis, all horses are at increasing risk with every passing year.
Learn even more about arthritis with our FREE Arthritis report. Learn about the treatment and diagnosis of arthritis and a new treatment called Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP).
Arthritis is simply inflammation of the articular surfaces of the joint. A horse’s joints are covered with an outside protective layer (joint capsule) and an inner layer (synovial membrane) that lubricates the joint cartilage to prevent friction and pain. When the horse applies weight to the joint as it moves forward, the cartilage changes shape to absorb shock and evenly distribute pressure. Through time, repeated concussion may cause joint inflammation. Inflammation leads to the breakdown of joint cartilage, which can lead to the development of progressive cartilage destruction. The result is pain, stiffness and swelling of the joint.
Not all horses have the same conformation or exercise history, so not all horses suffer the same negative affects of aging. Many horses are ridden and worked well into their late 20s, while others are arthritic and unable to be ridden much earlier in their lives.
My horse was still being ridden in the mountains through his mid-20s and has only been retired for the last three or four years. Treatment varies with the individual horses, but there are some general rules that apply to all. Regular exercise increases circulation of nutrients into and wastes out of the joint. It also strengthens the horse’s muscles and improves the horse’s attitude, appetite and overall sense of well-being.
Spending most of the time in the pasture is ideal. If younger or more aggressive horses are also in the pasture, older horses should be separated during feeding to ensure they receive an adequate amount of feed. If free exercise in a pasture is not available, turn them out in a paddock for several hours each day or hand-walk them.
Make their feed joint-friendly by feeding them a well-balanced diet for their unique geriatric requirements. That includes 12-16 percent protein, maintenance levels of calcium (less than 1 percent) and slightly elevated phosphorous content (about 0.4 to 0.65 percent), maintaining a ratio of close to 1.5:1.
If you're finding this information on arthritis helpful, you should check out our FREE Arthritis report. Learn all about the new Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) and see if it is right for your horse.
Supplementing with soybean meal is a good choice for providing additional protein, and corn oil (1/2 to 1 cup per day) is a good energy source in thin horses. Introduce it gradually over a couple of weeks.
Pain and stiffness can be managed with the administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as phenylbutazone (bute), flunixin meglumine (Banamine), aspirin, ketoprofen, etc.
Intravenous and intramuscular supplements are beneficial where several joints are involved. Oral dietary supplements can be beneficial in treating arthritis in horses.
To learn more about arthritis in horses, check out America's Horse TV.
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