Arthritis In Horses
In my practice, I am often asked about arthritis, in particular with older horses. In this article I will explore some of the symptoms, causes and basic treatment principles applicable to this condition. In future articles, we will explore some of the herbs, homeopathic and essential oil remedies that can be used in cases of arthritis. Your comments and stories are welcomed below.
Symptoms: Arthritis can be classified under two categories: septic and aseptic. Septic arthritis will show visible and obvious lameness and immobility, with swelling and pain. Its onset will be sudden and joints will feel hot to touch. Aseptic on the other hand can take longer to develop and the lameness will come and go initially. The joint will gradually become enlarged and flexion will be restricted.
Stiffness, pain and inflammation in the joints occur indicating degeneration within the joints. Arthritis is often called Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). It can involve all the structures forming the joint, including the bones, ligaments, capsule and cartilage of the joint. Resistance to movement and lameness is often found increase in both cold and overly damp conditions.
The inflamed joint can appear swollen, warm to touch and resistant to flexing. Erosion of the cartilage and bone can be seen, with the addition of internal bony growths or spurs indicating a more long-term arthritis.
Cause: The causes can be many, but the most common is repeated jarring on hard working surfaces and the wearing of the joints in exercise.
Training of horses young early in life, particularly on compacted tracks or arenas, fast gaited and jumping horses are more prone to develop arthritis later in life. Poor conformation and poor farriery can also be a factor, leading to uneven wear and overload on particular tendons and joints. Horses left to develop long toes and lowered heels risk strain and arthritis in the joints.
Nutritional deficiencies also have a bearing on joint health. High grain, rich feeding, an acidic diet, and inadequate calcium or copper in the diet can increase the incidence of bone and joint degeneration.
Action: With Arthritis, prevention is definitely better than cure. Early recognition and care of arthritis is also highly beneficial.
Early stages of arthritis can be settled with topical liniments. Warm poultices and warm bandaging can help to warm up joints and increase mobility. Applied whilst transporting a horse, overnight or prior to gentle exercise, or alternatively after work, to help relieve minor soreness. Armoricaine Clay poultices can be used in this way.
Diet: According to Pat Colby it is not uncommon for the overuse of super-phosphate fertilizers to have a debilitating and depleting affect on the mineral balance of soils. Minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassiuim should be added to help balance these phosphorus levels.
High grade dolomite is important for treating and preventing arthritis and giving an adequate Calcium and Magnesium supply. Australian seaweed or Kelp (Natrakelp is the most readily absorbed form of liquid seaweed), apple cider vinegar and flax seed meal or flax oil (refrigerated) have healing properties and are good for supporting a balanced diet for your horse.
Cold pressed Linseed oil, Garlic, Chamomile and a mineral or good quality rock-salt lick will also help support your horse.
MSM is a biological sulphur powder that contains a type of sulphur that is often lacking in arthritic sufferers.
Ester C is a non-acidic Vitamin C that can be added to feed to help reduce inflammation and boost immunity. Glucosamine is also used widely now for the treatment of arthritis, and a vegetable form can be sourced.
An acidic or high grain diet is not recommended for arthritic horses.
General Tip: Management and comfort of arthritic horses is important. Suitable rugging will help your horse through the colder periods. Warm paddock boots can also be used where required.
Therapies that support the suppleness and freedom of movement both in preventative and treatment care, are highly beneficial to your horse. This can include qualified and quality Chiropractic work (where required), Acupuncture and regular Massage for your horse. Exercises that support suppleness are also a good idea, and working your horse on gentle, supportive surfaces will increase the longevity of their joints.
Where an accident or injury has occurred, good first aid and follow up treatment lessens the likelihood of arthritic degeneration occurring. A good example of initial treatment might look like this:
- Rescue Remedy or Emergency Essence for shock and trauma
- Homeopathic Arnica for injury
- Rosehip tea with an appropriate mineral supplementation
- Herbs for tissue regeneration and detoxification
- Natural feeding diet to support bone health and general wellbeing
- Adequate rest
I hope some of the ideas in this article have been of use for increasing your understanding of arthritis.