Holistic Measures to Help Arthritis in Horses

While there are thousands of studies on humans and homeopathic treatments and remedies for arthritis, there is a shortage of scientific studies on horses and treating and remedying arthritis with holistic medicine. Fortunately, there is still an abundance of information from individual sources that discuss different holistic choices horse owners can utilize on their arthritic horses. Because this information does come from a variety of different sources, rather than scientific studies, it is still recommended that owners seek the advice of a holistic veterinarian prior to trying these treatments on their arthritic horses.

What is Arthritis?

Just like humans, horses experience wear and tear on their joints, which causes inflammation. This inflammation starts to erode the structures of a horse’s joints and the elasticity in ligaments and tendons tends to decrease, especially in older horses. A horse’s joint cartilage also begins to thin out as the fibrous tissues experience an increased amount of cell death. In a nutshell, arthritis is the degeneration of the joint surfaces due to inflammation.

And arthritis is self-exacerbating. Once a cell dies, it realizes toxic molecules and enzymes that then damage or kill adjacent cells. This progression of cell damage and death continues until the body’s inflammatory response steps in to stop the progression and clean up the mess. However, this inflammatory response is often overkill, and can in itself damage otherwise healthy tissues. Stopping the inflammatory process, and nourishing damaged tissues is the hallmark of arthritis treatment.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Horse

Treatments for equine arthritis

Osteoarthritis often causes swelling at the affected joint, like this swollen fetlock.

Obviously, horses cannot tell us that they are experiencing pain in their joints. Therefore, as horse owners and caretakers, there are signs that we should be aware of, especially in older horses, which will offer clues whether a horse has arthritis. While a limp is an obvious sign that a horse is painful in a given leg, other signs are much more subtle. And as we explained above, the earlier we can identify arthritis the earlier we can treat it, and thereby avoid the ongoing damage of the inflammatory response.

Some horses will exhibit warmth or puffiness in the joint area, while others will show their pain in their behaviors. If a horse becomes unwilling to perform regular tasks, or seems to be stiff when first starting to exercise, or shortens his stride, hollows his back, or raises his head in subtle ways, these may be signs that he is experiencing pain or discomfort.

Treatments and Remedies for Equine Arthritis

Because arthritis is a degenerative disease, it is vital to catch it before it gets to detrimental stages, as damaged joints cannot be reverted back to their original health. However, there are supplements that can be given to horses to help strengthen joints that have already started to deplete. Similar to human supplements, there are joint supplements for horses that contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which are vital nutrients that are essential for maintaining normal levels of joint function.

Chondroitin naturally exists in the joint cartilage, and chondroitin sulfate has been said to block cartilage destroying enzymes. Research has suggested that chondroitin supplements can help to stabilize, and have even functionally restored, arthritic joints of horses. A study conducted in Toronto has also concluded that glucosamine sulfate supplements do provide improvement in the arthritic joints of horses.

However, Murray State University conducted a study that concluded that collagen is more effective than glucosamine for managing and improving arthritic joints in horses. The study did conclude that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate absolutely did decrease the pain in the joints of the horses, but that 480 mg of type II collagen turned out to exhibit the most profound results for decreasing joint pain.

Hyaluronic acid, especially in intravenous form, is another option for equine arthritis treatment, and has shown remarkable results in a field experiment. This experiment came to be because several horses that were given oral supplements started exhibiting less adequate joint function after a period of time. Hyaluronic acid is a very large molecule, and not well absorbed in the GI tract. So these horses were given an intravenous form of hyaluronic acid monthly to replace the supplements, and most of the horses began to show improvement only after two weeks of receiving the first injection, and after three months of injections, the horses had improved significantly. Only one horse in this study did not show improvement; however, this could be because her joint damage was in a more extreme stage than the other horses.

Practical Maintenance of Arthritis in Horses

Along with a regular treatment for equine arthritis, owners should also initiate preventative care, as well as practical care of the joints. Regular, controlled movement that includes low-impact exercise that does not require extreme joint movement (such as grazing in the field) was also proven to reduce arthritis pain. Ensuring that horses are not overstressing their joints is also vital to preventative and practical care, even in horses which have not exhibited arthritis.

Exercise is vital for horses, for so many reasons, but regarding arthritis, exercise increases circulation, and circulation is a natural inflammatory. Exercise, as mentioned above, does not require the horse to overexert himself. On the contrary, exercise can be merely walking, as long as it increases the flow of blood. Therefore, horse owners should create a regular exercise routine for their horses as preventative and practical care.

Pay attention to the trimming and shoeing of horses, as well. A horse’s joints can suffer irregular concussion if trimming is inappropriate. Ensure that both sides of the hooves are even, as this imbalance (which is common) can cause the hoof to land on one side first, which bears down on the joints in the legs improperly. Other problems for joints are toes that are too long and heels that are too low, which also add stress to the joints in improper ways.

A horse does not have to be retired due to arthritis. As a matter of fact, most horses live a long, enjoyable, active life even with arthritis, due to the practical care and treatment that they are given. Whether supplements, injections, or other treatments are administered to the arthritic horse, the earlier the treatments are started after arthritis is discovered, the better chance a horse has to recover full functionality of their joints. The past decade has shown quite a bit of success and promise in treating equine arthritis, and we can expect the next decade to improve upon and advance in treating this degenerative and painful disease.

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