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    Arthritis symptoms in horses and how to treat the problem

    ArticleHow To - HealthMonday 08 February 2010
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    Arthritis is one of the most common ailments to affect horses, especially in later life. Therefore, it’s important to be in a position to spot the problem of arthritis before it becomes a serious problem for your horse. With effective treatment, the problem can be controlled to an extent where a horse can still live a reasonable quality of life, so treating horse arthritis quickly should be one of the top priorities of any good horse owner, as this guide explains.
     
    How to spot the signs
    There are many ways to spot arthritis symptoms for horses, and the most common signs will be immediately visible to the human eye. Keep in mind the following:
     
    • Common signs of horse arthritis include excessive swelling around the joints, lameness, irrational behaviour such as rolling or bucking, general discomfort displayed both inside and outside of the stable, and a sudden reluctance to exercise.
       
    • Once you have diagnosed arthritis as the potential cause of the above problem, it’s best to seek expert veterinary advice to confirm the problem. The vet will be able to determine both the presence and severity of the arthritis by taking X-rays. Another common method of diagnosing horse arthritis is the famous flexion test. This involves applying pressure to the affected joint for a short amount of time before analysing the horse’s trot. This will determine the extent the problem and the likelihood of lameness.
       
    • As with humans, arthritis is mostly brought about by old age weakening the body’s athleticism. Often, arthritis is more common in horses with a long history of hard work and exercise, such as racehorses and performance horses. A horse with a less intensive lifestyle may develop arthritis symptoms later in life.
     
    How to care for older horses
    Unfortunately, there is little any owner can do to prevent the onset of senior horse arthritis – it’s a natural part of ageing. However, there are steps you can take to at least keep the problem under control and allow an older horse to enjoy its latter years in relative comfort.
     
    • Take some time to consider a new approach to the horse’s dietary requirements. Sometimes, adding a specialist joint-enhancing supplement can help reduce the effects of wear and tear on the horse’s joints. Although the success of these supplements is not always guaranteed, it’s worth searching around for and seeking expert advice on joint supplements.
       
    • Similarly, many leading feed brands offer specialist ranges designed for the older horse. Occasionally, an older horse can have a lot of difficulty retaining weight, and specialist feeds and supplements can rectify this problem – whilst rejuvenating joints and muscles in the process. 
       
    • Regular massages can be extremely beneficial for an older horse, alleviating stress and strain on the joints. Read our guide to massaging a horse’s back to learn more about this method of treating horse arthritis.
       
    • Finally, make sure an older horse does not stay idle for an extended length of time. Regular exercise, however light, can help prevent horse arthritis causing major discomfort for an older horse.
    Treating equine arthritis
    Here are a number of treatments that can be used to treat arthritis and osteoarthritis in horses. Obviously consult a vet first, and they will often opt for one of these treatments. 
     
    Anti-inflammatory drugs
    Drugs such as cortisone can help keep the problem of arthritis under control. In fact, anti-inflammatory drugs can be the perfect remedy for keeping agonising swelling to a minimum. They may only be a short term measure, but to ensure your horse stays as comfortable as possible, there are few better options available on the market.
     
    Therapeutic shoeing
    Perhaps unsurprisingly, cases of arthritis can flair up as a result of poor shoeing. Therefore, if the condition occurs, examine the horse’s shoe carefully to see whether it is the source of any discomfort. It may also be worth considering ‘therapeutic shoeing’ – this can offer impressive results in reducing pressure on the joints.
     
    Analyse weight patterns
    As in humans, obesity and excess weight gain can heighten the pressure on arthritic joints, exacerbating the problem. It’s essential to keep the horse at an optimum weight for its size to ensure osteoarthritis does not flare up further.
     
    Viscosupplementation
    This involves injecting a gel-like substance into arthritic joints to improve lubrication. The problem of cartilage rubbing against cartilage can be greatly reduced, boosting the mobility of your horse.
     
    Advanced surgery
    It’s the most extreme option and one that can have mixed results, but if carried out effectively, this can be one of the most effective osteoarthritis treatments for equines. Surgical procedures can help remove cartilage debris, stimulate bone growth and help with the repair of joints. However, surgery should never be considered lightly and should be viewed as a last resort.
     
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