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Joint Care for Horses


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of joints.  It is the breakdown of the cartilage that lines the bones of the joint.  Eventually, during end stage osteoarthritis, the cartilage is worn down to the point that actual bone material rubs together.  Osteoarthritis is painful and cannot be cured, but there are now a multitude of medications and treatments that we can use to help both alleviate pain and discomfort, and slowdown the degenerative process.

Non-steroidalanti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are potent analgesics that aid in alleviating pain for the horse.  The most common NSAID’s are phenylbutazone (“Bute”) and Banamine.  Another newer medication is firocoxib,also know as Equioxx or Previcox. The firocoxibs are beneficial because side effects, such as colonic ulcers, are less common than with Bute and Banamine.  There is one topical NSAID, called Surpass that you can rub over the affected joint(s).  It penetrates through the skin into the joint and locally relieves inflammation,also decreasing the side effects seen with the systemic medications.  NSAID’s are an important treatment for osteoarthritis, but they are best used in combination with chondroprotective medications (lubricants of joint) and other therapies.

Some chondro protectives are glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.  These are well-known with human arthritis, as well as small animals.  There are many oral joint supplements available for horses as well. However, the only one with much evidence of helping has Avacodo Soybean Unsoponifiables in it, such as Cosaquin ASU.  And even this oral supplement may not do enough.  A better medication is Adequan, aliquid glucosamine that you give as a series of injections into the muscle of the horse.  Adequan is a safe and effective anti-inflammatory, which can also provide more lubrication to the joints.  Another injectable solution that has been proven to slow down the denerative processes of the joint is Legend.  This must be given by a veterinarian intravenously as a series of injections.  Legend is hyaluronic acid, which is different from Adequan.  Ideally,both would be used together.

Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) is another effective tool to decrease lameness associated with osteoarthritis in horses. The ESWT devices generate a series of focused high-pressure sound waves that travel from the probe through the skin and soft tissue. When the waves meet tissue interfaces, the energy contained in the shock waves is released and interacts with the tissue, producing both mechanical and cellular effects.  In horses, it has shown to decrease inflammation within the joint and provide pain relief.  It is another treatment option to consider in combination with other medications and tools.

Intra-articular useof steroids are the most potent anti-inflammatories for osteoarthritis.  There are different types of steroids,some of which cause deleterious effects to the joint and others cause beneficial effects.  These steroids are commonly used in combination with the other treatments.  However, newer therapies have been used recently to try to actually help slow down the degenerative process and help heal defects within the joint.

These newer therapies for osteoarthritis are Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), Autologous Conditioned Serum(IRAP), and gene therapy.  They can be quite expensive, but have the benefit of making huge differences for the horse suffering from osteoarthritis. They are particularly beneficial to those equine athletes that may have a minor lesion that causes major consequences to their performance.

Equine osteoarthritis can ultimately cause devastation to the horse, including decreased performance and even euthanasia, if it gets bad enough.  It causes pain and discomfort to the horse.  The point of this article is to show horse owners that there are a multitude of options for their horse with osteoarthritis.  If one medication or treatment fails, there’s always another one.  It is also important to know that multimodal treatment is the best option.  Attacking this disease from many angles is better than focusing on one thing.

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