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As for humans, osteoarthritis (otherwise known as “degenerative joint disease”) in horses is a degeneration of the cartilage that surrounds the bones of their joints. This pathology is progressive and irreversible, but it is possible to limit its progression. Contrary to popular belief, horses can suffer from osteoarthritis at any age (from 5 years old), especially sport horses. The pathology can appear in particular due to too much or too brutal exercise. Osteoarthritis develops mainly on the limbs (foot, ball, hock, shoulder), but can affect other parts of the body such as the back or pelvis. If it affects the limbs, osteoarthritis manifests itself by intermittent limping, especially on hard ground and at the very beginning of work. With warming up, the lameness tends to disappear. You may also notice swelling in your horse’s joints, this distension being caused by synovial fluid escaping from the joint.
In order to make a diagnosis, your veterinarian may use X-rays, ultrasounds, scans, MRIs or CT scans. Depending on his diagnosis, your veterinarian may advise several types of treatment, such as infiltrations (intra-articular injections, for example of corticoids, hyaluronic acid, etc.), general anti-inflammatory drugs, mesotherapy (injection of products under the skin using small needles, on a given surface), or infusions of bisphosphonates (which will act on the cells responsible for bone destruction and thus relieve pain). If osteoarthritis affects your horse’s limbs, the farrier will be able to adapt the shoeing and trimming of your horse to give maximum relief to its joints. Also, make sure that your horse does not become overweight, so as not to create extra pressure on the joints of its limbs.
In addition to the treatments that the veterinarian may prescribe, you can supplement your horse’s ration with products that will promote the regeneration of its cartilage and relieve pain. You can choose supplements based on hydrolysed collagen and GAGs (glycosaminoglycans, such as chondroitin), natural components of your horse’s cartilage. MSM (methyl-sulphonyl-methane) is also known to be very effective in relieving osteoarthritis. Royal Horse C-500, rich in MSM, chondroitin and antioxidants, is ideal for maintaining the elasticity and suppleness of the joints of your horse suffering from osteoarthritis and limiting the inflammatory effects. Certain plants also relieve joint pain or inflammation, such as herpagophytum (or devil’s claw), turmeric and ginger.
If your veterinarian diagnoses osteoarthritis in the horse and prescribes treatment, some adjustments will have to be made in his work. In particular, you will need to devote more time to warming up your horse before a session, while its joints warm up well. Your horse’s activity must remain regular and prolonged rest periods should be avoided. You should also choose a soft and good quality ground for your sessions so as not to cause shocks to your horse’s joints.