Dealing With Osteoarthritis in Aging Equines

Dealing With Osteoarthritis in Aging Equines

Dealing With Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects horses as well as humans. Do your knees ache more than when you were younger, or are you constantly rubbing your shoulders or neck with pain? These signs of aging bring significant discomfort, and equines have just as many issues.

At Oak Haven Acres, we constantly watch and assist our arthritic horses with their pain management. For many, the best course of action is to move more. An immobile joint builds up inflammation and causes arthritis to worsen. However, keeping a horse moving despite their preference for grazing helps reduce inflammation.

A doctor prescribes exercise and more movement for humans to tackle their arthritis, so it’s medically proven that keeping that joint in motion helps. Our goal is to prevent pain, swelling, and lameness with our equines, but it’s a massive task as arthritis affects most older horses to some degree.

Understanding Degenerative Disk Disease

There are many different types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most common one observed due to wear and tear on the joint. It’s officially called degenerative joint disease, which means the cushioning inside the joint and bone deteriorates and breaks down over time. Thus, the older a horse is, the more apt they are to have this condition.

Part of the deterioration process causes the joint to lose the lubrication fluid that keeps it moving freely. When this fluid level is reduced, the impact of things like walking becomes more painful. The gentle glide the joint is designed to do becomes stiff and doesn’t move sufficiently.

Think of a door hinge that you’ve applied WD-40 to so that it would stop squeaking. The lubricant helps the hinge move with ease and stops friction. With age and time, the hinge doesn’t move as well or may rust, and there’s a similar process happening inside a horse’s joints.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for the joints or things you can add to them to make them work like new in a horse. The pain can become so intense that an equine will refuse to walk, or lameness sets in. Osteoarthritis is location specific, as it usually only affects certain joints. Veterinarians often see “ringbone or bone spavin” affecting the pastern bone in the leg.

Signs of Osteoarthritis in a Horse

The most common sign that a horse is suffering from arthritis is limited mobility. Any equine that isn’t moving like before warrants a vet visit. Other signs commonly observed include:

•Bony growths, also called bone spurs
•Inflammation of the joint
•Affected areas are warm to the touch
•Signs of pain and discomfort
•Lameness or refusing to move as they did before

Initially, we notice some stiffness in our equines in the early mornings before they’ve had a chance to warm up their joints. What we can’t see is that inside the affected area the cartilage is breaking down and damaged. So, the pad that helps the joint feel cushioned with movement is not working properly.

Every step can become painful as there’s inflammation and a lack of normal function. When the damage becomes severe, osteophytes form. Though unsuccessful, these bony growths are a way for the body to try to repair the damage. A veterinarian will do an examination and look for these and other signs to make an official diagnosis of arthritis.

Treating This Painful Condition

The best way to comfort arthritis is to reduce the inflammation present in the joint. Once the swelling is lowered, it will help the pain levels and inhibit further damage. There are many medications that the veterinarian can give the horse to help slow the progression of arthritis, as it will destroy the joint over time.

It’s challenging to repair the joint once the cartilage has worn away. While knee replacements and such surgeries are not standard on equines like humans, injections of things like corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid can help get fluid to the area.

Another popular course of treatment is to use NSAID medications like ibuprofen. The only consideration with long-term use of these drugs is that they can damage the kidneys and cause stomach ulcers. Topical creams are also beneficial, but it depends on what joints are compromised as to the best treatment method.


An arthritic horse should limit activities like racing or pulling a buggy. However, our horses don’t do such things here at Oak Haven Acres. As a retirement center, our equines spend their days frolicking in the field and living out their golden years in peace and contentment. Though, they still feel the pangs of this degenerative condition.

The key to treating osteoarthritis is to catch it early. The sooner you take methods to reduce the inflammation, the longer you can keep degenerative changes like bone spurs at bay. Here we ensure our horses are shoed, get proper hoof trims, and keep their footing sturdy, as it helps reduce an early onset.

Phone: 252-478-5239 or 919-818-6241
515 Huford Harris Rd, Spring Hope, NC 27882, USA
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