How to manage arthritis in horses with supplements

Arthritis is a common condition affecting the joints and mobility of horses. Whilst arthritis is more often seen in older horses, it can affect a horse of any age. Naturally, horse owners feel compelled to seek treatments that provide their horses with relief. But finding the best joint supplement can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Thankfully, this task is made much easier with a little research into what the beneficial ingredients are and how likely they are to benefit the horse.

Symptoms and signs of arthritis in horses

First, let’s cover some of the early signs that a horse might be suffering from arthritis. You may notice any of the following symptoms, or a combination:

  • Stiff movement
  • Lameness
  • Reluctance to transition and/or picking up the incorrect canter lead
  • Swelling around joints

For arthritis, these symptoms emerge due to joint pain or disease. “Arthritis” is the term given to a number of conditions affecting the joints.

horse joint health arthritis

What makes a healthy joint?

 The ends of a horse’s bones are coated in a thin layer of articular cartilage that reduces friction and provides smooth motion. Added to this is a joint capsule with a tough outer layer that protects the joint and connects the bones. Within this tough outer layer is the synovial membrane, which produces a lubricating, nutrient-rich liquid called synovial fluid. Motion simply cannot occur without this “cushion” and “lubrication” where bones meet.

Synovial fluid is incredibly nutrient dense. It contains proteins, enzymes, leukocytes and sodium hyaluronate (also known as hyaluronic acid). Sodium hyaluronate plays a key role in joint health. Its structure is a negatively charged sugar chain known as glycosaminoglycan (GAG), which forms complicated coils that respond to pressure changes in the joint capsule. As the horse moves, the chains of glycosaminoglycan absorb shock and stablize the joint. Together with articular cartilage, tendons and ligaments, the joint operates as an effective system for supporting a horse’s movement.

If this system is compromised through injury or inflammation, then there can be a rapid breakdown of joint integrity.

 

Treating arthritis in horses

Arthritis is a medical condition and it’s important that your veterinarian is consulted in any treatment plan. Vets have access to diagnostic tools that shine a light on the degree to which your horse is affected. Knowing this allows you and your horse’s support team to make informed care choices. There are also treatment options that can only be administered by a trained professional.

Joint medications and injections for horses with arthritis

Where supplements provide the horse with a nutritional approach to alleviating arthritis, Veterinarians are able to inject treatments directly to affected joints. Injection options for arthritis include corticosteroid injections, Hyaluronic injections, plasma, and polyacrylamide hydrogel.

Vets also have other medications that are injected into muscle tissue to benefit all the joints in the body. Such options include cartrophen (also known as pentosan).

Your vet will consider a range of factors when determining a treatment plan for your horse. There’s no “one size fits all” solution, and indeed, each horse may respond differently to treatment, particularly given the varying living environments we keep them in.

Arthritis and the older horse

Most people are familiar with arthritis as an “old horse ailment.” It’s true that arthritis is more common in aged horses over 15 years. A lifetime of exercise (particularly high intensity) can injure cartilage. If the horse isn’t getting proper nutrition then its ability to repair cartilage is also compromised.

Other factors can bring about early onset of arthritis well before a horse is considered to be aged. Some of these factors are developmental disease such as Osteochondrosis (OCD). Other factors are environmental. Long periods of standing in stables places joints in compression. Joint injury, high impact work, or nutritional shortfalls can also bring on an early onset of arthritis.

By supporting your horse’s nutritional needs with a complete diet you are setting your horse up with the best chance of a long riding career and comfortable retirement.

Can I ride a horse with arthritis?

Supplements to help arthritis and promote healthy joints

You may be surprised to learn that arthritis and joint supplements can have very different active ingredients. A brief summary of some of the more common ingredients found in arthritis supplements is as follows:

Supplement Ingredient 

Benefit 

CHONDROPROTECTIVE AGENTS 

Believed to reduce inflammation and stimulate cartilage cells. 

GLUCOSAMINE 

A natural amino sugar that is one of the building blocks of cartilage. Whilst naturally produced by the horse’s body, a horse can be unable to produce enough glucosamine during times of stress or injury. 

CHONDROITIN 

A natural compound found in cartilage. 

METHYLSULPHONYLMETHANE (MSM) 

A naturally occurring compound that assists in reducing inflammation. 

AMINO ACIDS 

Several amino acids are required for growth and repair of joints, cartilage and connective tissue. 

Proline is an essential amino acid which is required for collagen structure and, in turn, cartilage.  

Methionine is a sulfur bearing amino acid and aids in the synthesis of cartilage and connective tissue. 

Lysine also performs a similar role to Methionine.  

 

VITAMIN C (ABSORBIC ACID) 

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) is a co-factor for enzymes involved in collagen stabilization. Ascorbic Acid is understood to help slow the progression of osteoarthritis. 

HYALURONIC ACID 

Beneficial for reducing joint inflammation and promoting regeneration of cells and tissue. 



(Tip: For a deeper analysis of the above, be sure to visit our detailed guide)

When selecting a supplement for arthritis or joint health it is generally a good move to choose a product from a reputable supplier. Look for products that have quality research behind them, plus a stable, beneficial ingredient that is well absorbed by the horse.

In addition to looking at what you can add to your horse’s diet, you may want to look at what can be taken out. Overweight horses have extra pressure placed on their joints, which is not good for arthritis. Safely return your horse to a healthier body score, and in doing so, lighten the burden on the joints.


 HYGAIN® FLEXION®

A blend of quality neutraceuticals and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) components for the nourishment of joints, cartilage and connective tissues.

 

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Naturally derived anti-inflammatory supplements for horses

Anti-inflammatory supplements are worthy of consideration for horses with arthritis and have a growing body of research that supports their benefits. Such supplements are of particular relevance to arthritic horses where inflammation and swelling exists.

Naturally derived ingredients such as Curcumin, Bromelain and Boswellia Serrata are well regarded for their beneficial properties and are featured across many supplements, both animal and human.

Bromelain: Found in the stem and yellow parts of the pineapple fruit. Bromelain is a group of protein digesting enzymes that are reported to have several health benefits. It is most renowned for anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit joints, the respiratory system and cardiovascular health.

Curcumin: Found in the Curcuma longa plant, which is more commonly known as turmeric. Curcumin has been used in Eastern medicine for centuries and is known for anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antiseptic properties.

Boswellia Serrata: Also known as Indian Frankincense, the Boswellia serrata extract is sourced from the tree of the same name. It has long been used through Eastern medicine as an anti-inflammatory and is reputed to aid in joint health and respiratory disease (such as asthma).


 HYGAIN® CURCULAIN PRO™

A unique and powerful blend of three naturally derived antioxidants in liquid form.

CURCULAIN PRO™ provides the collective and well documented benefits of Curcumin (from Turmeric), Bromelain (from Pineapple Stem), Boswellia Serrata and Biota Orientalis Seed Oil to deliver a potent antioxidant boost from Mother Nature herself.

Antioxidant therapy may be of benefit in treating soft tissue ailments or injury by countering the impact of oxidative stress. Tendons, muscles, ligaments and joints may all benefit from effective antioxidant supplementation.

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Need help with balancing your horse’s diet for optimum joint health? Reach out to Hygain’s Nutrition Team for free expert advice specific to your situation. You can reach the nutrition team via nutrikey.com.au, or by sending an email to nutrition@hygain.com.au. Your veterinarian can also assist.


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