Arthritis Diagnosis & Treatment in Horses

Arthritis in Horses

Osteoarthritis (known as arthritis) is a degenerative joint disease afflicting most mammals. In particular, horses depend on their joints for lifelong use and work. 

Arthritis is a condition in which the joint of a mammal swells or becomes inflamed. Without treatment, arthritis will progress to a chronic condition. In its most severe form, the damage from arthritis is irreversible. Chronic arthritis will damage surrounding tissue, bone, and cartilage.

As modern medicine extends the lifespan of our equine pals, we see more horses struggling with this degenerative disease.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Altogether, the symptoms of arthritis will center around the joints. The symptoms you need to watch for are:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Lameness
  • Stiffness
  • Popping or cracking sounds

Causes of Arthritis

Arthritis Diagnosis & Treatment in HorsesArthritis is more common in elderly horses, but the condition is not exclusive to the elderly. 

Horses who worked hard in the field or ran long, athletic careers are also prone to the disease. Athletes and workhorses are prone to severe injury, leading to arthritis. 

Occasionally, a horse can develop an infection in his joint capsule. Arthritis can develop after this infection. Even foals are susceptible to arthritis from infection.


The first way to protect your horse from arthritis is to avoid overwork and excessive exercise. Demanding work will put added strain on your horse’s joints. You may even extend their longevity by pacing work and athletic events.

Your veterinarian may suggest arthritis supplements to keep arthritis at bay. These supplements help balance healthy joint fluids and cartilage. 

Finally, put your horse on a shoeing schedule. Find what works best for you and your horse. Joint health starts with the hoof. So, keep your horse’s hooves healthy to keep his joints healthy.

Diagnosis of Arthritis in Horses

Your veterinarian will ask you about any symptoms you think your horse is experiencing. Additionally, she will perform a complete examination to test your horse’s joints, gait, and mobility.

If necessary, your veterinarian will order x-rays or MRIs.

Limping, pain, or reduced range of motion are all critical indicators for your veterinarian.

Treatment of Arthritis in Horses

Medicinal Treatments

Your veterinarian will put together a medicinal regimen for your horse. Some treatments will address swelling, while others will reduce pain. Medicinal treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Steroids
  • Joint supplements

Physical Therapy and Surgical Treatments

Daily exercise is likely the best treatment for your horse. The movement will reduce stiffness and reduce pain. Surgical fusion of the joints is a method to fuse the joints to reduce pain for your horse. Finally, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments have shown excellent results.

Outlook and Recovery

For arthritis developed from infection, antibiotics and joint flushing will clear the infection. With the infection gone, you can prevent further damage to the joint.

Regarding arthritis developed from overuse or age, you will look to manage and reduce symptoms. There is no cure for arthritis, but exercise and therapeutic options can significantly improve your horse’s life.

Call your veterinarian if your horse’s gait or behavior concerns you. It is best to address any severe concerns, especially with elderly horses. Your horse cannot communicate with you through words, so you must regularly observe his physical demeanor.



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