What is joint arthritis?

If you own a performance horse or have ever dealt with lameness, you’ve likely heard that your horse may have joint arthritis. This is because the strain of a performance horse’s repeated effort performing movements or clearing fences takes its toll on joints’ synovial fluid and cartilage.

With arthritis, cartilage degrades faster than it can rebuild, which in turn causes inflammation in the joint. In addition, the synovial fluid that serves to lubricate and cushion the joint becomes less viscous (it thins). In these cases the pain can come on slowly and subtly until the horse becomes obviously lame or exhibits decreased performance.

My Horse has arthritis, now what?

When this happens veterinarians often prescribe intra-articular joint injections, which they administer directly into joints. By medicating a horse’s joints they aim to decrease inflammation; restore performance level; and protect the existing joint cartilage. This technique will not, however, “cure” joint disease or create new cartilage.

What do use to treat arthritic joints in horses?

Corticosteroids, a potent anti-inflammatories is often used as a joint medication-there is a very small chance this could induce laminitis, but this likely only occurs with extremely high, prolonged doses. Two common injectables are hyaluronic acid (HA, marketed as Legend) and polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, or PSGAG, (Adequan) that can be administered intravenously or intramuscularly, respectively, or directly into the joint. They both aim to decrease inflammation in the joint.

Because these two drugs act in different ways, they might be administered alone, in combination, or with other medications, depending on the severity or stage of disease.

As a preventive method, a small amount of antibiotics is injected along with the joint medication. However, only 0.1-0.5% of injected horses suffer from either a joint infection or joint flare.

Is there anything else I should be doing to help my horse with arthritis?

Joint injections are only part of a much bigger joint management picture that includes rest, proper diet and optimal weight, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug administration.

Take-Home Message

Inflammation is the initial problem that occurs in joints. Left unattended, it might eventually lead to degenerative joint disease, which horse owners must take very seriously. There should be good, solid discussion between owner, trainer, and veterinarian considering issues such as costs and what is expected of the horse. Once these are established, the best choice of treatment might include intra-articular injections of established medications or newer therapies such as IRAP, stem cell, or platelet-rich plasma injections. Combine that with plenty of down time and good management to help the horse remain as pain-free as possible


Dr. Silvia Colladay DVM is a UC Davis grad with 17 years experience treating horses in Orange County California.

She is at most equestrian centers frequently visiting San Juan Capistrano, Huntington Beach, Coto De Caza, Anaheim, Laguna Niguel and Nellie Gail Ranch.

If you have any questions regarding arthritis or joint health treatments please call to discuss. 

equine veterinary Orange County

Dr. Silvia Colladay DVM


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