5 Key Arthri­tis Ques­tions

Here’s what you need to know about arthri­tis to keep your se­nior horse as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents -

Is arthri­tis a fac­tor with your se­nior horse? Lind­sey Moneta, DVM, a ve­teri­nar­ian with Pa­cific Crest Sporthorse in Ore­gon City, Ore­gon, answers key ques­tions you may have on this topic.

Are horse and hu­man arthri­tis sim­i­lar?

In a gen­eral sense, yes. Arthri­tis is a broad term to de­scribe joint dis­ease. While there are many types and causes of arthri­tis, the most com­mon type that horse own­ers en­counter is os­teoarthri­tis. This con­di­tion oc­curs when the car­ti­lage nor­mally cush­ion­ing the joint sur­faces wears away. This leads to bone rub­bing on bone, which can manifest as joint swelling, pain, and stiff­ness.

The dis­ease process is pro­gres­sive for os­teoarthri­tis, and while there’s no cure, there are many steps you can take to min­i­mize dis­com­fort and im­prove qual­ity of life for your horse.

How im­por­tant is catch­ing it early?

As with any dis­ease, early de­tec­tion en­ables you and your ve­teri­nar­ian to bet­ter man­age your horse to help him feel and per­form well. Par­tic­u­larly in con­di­tions such as os­teo­chon­dri­tis (de­vel­op­men­tal bone dis­ease in young horses) or trau­matic in­juries, as­sess­ing and ad­dress­ing is­sues af­fect­ing the joint can re­duce the chances that arthri­tis will set in later. Many horses can con­tinue to have ath­letic ca­reers af­ter arthri­tis is di­ag­nosed— given the right man­age­ment strate­gies and treat­ments.

What can my vet do to help?

Your ve­teri­nar­ian is es­sen­tial for de­ter­min­ing which of your horse’s joints are af­fected by arthri­tis, and to what ex­tent. He or she will typ­i­cally em­ploy a com­bi­na­tion of pal­pa­tion, joint- flex­ion tests, and di­ag­nos­tic imag­ing such as ra­dio­graphs and ul­tra­sound. Fur­ther imag­ing stud­ies such as nu­clear scintig­ra­phy ( bone scan), MRI, or CT can be help­ful in more com­pli­cated cases.

Af­ter the di­ag­no­sis, your vet can ad­vise on the best treat­ment reg­i­men for your horse. Treat­ments of­ten in­volve mul­ti­ple ap­proaches de­pend­ing on the horse and the num­ber of joints af­fected.

Com­mon treat­ments in­clude in­jec­tions of cor­ti­cos­teroids and hyaluronic acid into the joint, sys­temic in­jectable ther­a­pies, pain re­lief via non-steroidal anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries, and oral sup­ple­men­ta­tion. Your ve­teri­nar­ian can help you de­cide which ther­a­pies will be best for your horse.

What can I do to help?

Many things! Con­sis­tent ex­er­cise tai­lored to your horse’s com­fort and ath­letic level is great for keep­ing joints lim­ber. De­pend­ing on the sever­ity of your horse’s con­di­tion, ex­er­cise can range from sim­ple pas­ture turnout to a reg­u­lar rid­ing sched­ule.

Se­nior horses with mul­ti­ple arthritic joints of­ten do best when they have 24/7 ac­cess to a pad­dock or pas­ture (along with ad­e­quate shel­ter). Be sure to main­tain pas­tures and are­nas so your horse isn’t slog­ging through deep or un­even foot­ing.

Keep­ing your horse at an ideal weight—and es­pe­cially not over­weight—will re­duce load bear­ing on painful joints. Reg­u­lar skilled far­rier work also helps re­duce pain, par­tic­u­larly when arthri­tis af­fects the lower limb joints.

Fi­nally, know­ing your horse well so you can tell when he might need ex­tra help or a visit from your vet is key to his con­tin­ued com­fort.

Given the right man­age­ment and treat­ment, your arthritic horse may be able to con­tinue to per­form in his ath­letic ca­reer.

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