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Arthritis symptoms in horses and how to treat the problem

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 before it becomes a serious problem. With effective treatment, the problem can be controlled to an extent where a horse can still live a reasonable quality of life, so treating it quickly should be one of the top priorities of any caring horse owner, as this guide explains.


How to spot the signs

There are many symptoms that can be identified and the most common signs will be immediately visible to the human eye. Keep in mind the following:


  • Common signs 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 it by taking X-rays. Another common method of diagnosing this condition 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.

Vet Checks up on Horse

  • As with humans, arthritis is mostly brought about by old age weakening the body’s athleticism. Often, it’s more common in horses with a long history of hard work and exercise, such as racehorses and performance horses. A horse with a less intense lifestyle may develop these symptoms much 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. We would recommend ProSound HA Equine Joint Supplement for an option that is both affordable and effective.

  • 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. To find out how to keep an eye on your horse's weight, check our specialist write up here.

  • 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. There are alternative massage options such as therapy rugs, which are highly effective pieces of equipment that do all the work for you. Shop for therapy rugs here!

  • 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. Following a horse exercise plan is a great way to make sure your horse gets the right amount of activity.

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 flare 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.



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.


Arthritis is one of the main causes of depletion in horse health across the globe, and it can be tamed and reduced just by being observant and careful. Before it even gets to the stage where you’re consulting a vet, you can massively reduce a horse’s risk by providing them with a great quality of life. To find more tips on how to look after a horse in the long term, check out our Ultimate Horse Health Guide.