EQUUS - - Longevity -

Good man­age­ment can head off or lessen the ef­fects of many age-re­lated health is­sues, but there’s not much you can do to keep a horse from de­vel­op­ing arthri­tis.

“Much like in peo­ple, arthritic changes in horses are an in­evitable part of ag­ing,” says David Fris­bie, DVM, PhD, of Colorado State Univer­sity.

A horse’s ge­net­ics and life­style have some in­flu­ence on how well his joints func­tion as he ages. But there’s no es­cap­ing the ba­sic wear and tear that even­tu­ally leads the in­flam­ma­tion that nor­mally as­sists in joint heal­ing and main­te­nance to out­pace the body’s restora­tive abil­i­ties. The re­sult is a de­struc­tive cas­cade of pro­cesses that lead to de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the joints: arthri­tis.

Even if joint prob­lems can’t en­tirely be pre­vented, how­ever, there are things you can do to slow the pro­gres­sion of arthri­tis and al­le­vi­ate the dis­com­fort it causes. Treat­ments for horses with arthri­tis range from feed sup­ple­ments to in­ten­sive, high­tech ther­a­pies. The best choice for a par­tic­u­lar horse de­pends on many fac­tors, in­clud­ing his age, ac­tiv­ity level and the sever­ity of the case. Cur­rent ther­a­pies in­clude:

• Di­etary sup­ple­ments. A va­ri­ety of joint sup­port sup­ple­ments are avail­able. Formulated to aid heal­ing and en­cour­age growth of healthy tis­sue, many also have an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory ef­fects. Most con­tain some com­bi­na­tion of sub­stances nat­u­rally found in healthy joints, in­clud­ing glu­cosamine, chon­droitin sul­fate, poly­sul­fated gly­cosamino­gly­cans (PSGAGs) and hyaluro­nan. Other com­mon in­gre­di­ents in­clude methyl­sul­fonyl­methane (MSM), yucca, av­o­cado-soy­bean un­saponifi­able (ASU) ex­tract and vi­ta­min C.

• NSAIDs. Drugs such as phenylbu­ta­zone both relieve pain and in­ter­rupt the in­flam­ma­tory process, which can break the cy­cle of car­ti­lage degra­da­tion. Oral NSAIDs can be ad­min­is­tered as pills, pow­ders or pastes, but longterm use can some­times lead to side ef­fects such as gas­tric ul­cers. Newer prod­ucts that se­lec­tively in­hibit only the COX-2 en­zymes prom­ise pain re­lief with fewer side ef­fects. An­other op­tion is to ap­ply a top­i­cal prod­uct over the af­fected joints.

• In­jec­tions. Cor­ti­cos­teroids are po­tent anti-in­flam­ma­tory agents that can be in­jected di­rectly into the joint space to pro­duce im­me­di­ate pain re­lief as well as to slow pro­gres­sion of the dis­ease. How­ever, cor­ti­cos­teroids can have side ef­fects, in­clud­ing lamini­tis, and any in­jec­tion into the joint poses risks, such as in­fec­tion. Hyaluro­nan can be ad­min­is­tered ei­ther into the joint or in­tra­venously to sup­port joint health. It seems to have an anti-in­flam­ma­tory ef­fect and to stim­u­late the body to pro­duce more, bet­ter qual­ity syn­ovial fluid. PSGAGs can also be in­jected into the joint or in­tra­mus­cu­larly. Th­ese also en­cour­age heal­ing of car­ti­lage and are thought to have an anti-in­flam­ma­tory ef­fect.

• IRAP (in­ter­leukin-1 re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist pro­tein) ther­apy. In this pro­ce­dure, blood is drawn from the horse and treated to stim­u­late the pro­duc­tion of IRAP, which blocks a pro­tein that ac­cel­er­ates joint dam­age. The serum is then in­jected back into the same horse’s joint.

• Stem-cell ther­apy. This cut­ting-edge treat­ment har­vests un­dif­fer­en­ti­ated cells from the horse’s own body tis­sues, usu­ally fat or bone mar­row, and in­jects them back into the dam­aged joint to cre­ate new car­ti­lage cells.

What­ever other treat­ments your vet­eri­nar­ian sug­gests, she is likely to also rec­om­mend ex­er­cise, at what­ever level your horse can man­age. “We know a con­sis­tent level of ex­er­cise seems to help,” says Fris­bie. “This helps keep good mus­cle strength, which sup­ports the joints and al­lows less lax­ity.”

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