Horse leadingCould Your Horse Be At Risk Of Degenerative Joint Disease?

(also known as Osteoarthritis)
Performance animals are prone to continual trauma around joints from normal training loads.
Normal joint cartilage is a protective surface to the bones which, along with the synovial fluid bathing the joint capsule, allows smooth movement of a joint during motion.  Continual wear and tear on the delicate cartilages and associated soft tissues (particularly in the fetlock and knee or hock) from loading during performance/competition work can lead to joint disease.
The ongoing trauma-repair battle amid the negative effects of associated inflammation, eventually stimulates the body to produce extra bone around the joint in an attempt to stabilise it, this is the hallmark of osteoarthritis.  It is a progressive disease that will affect the large majority of competition horses at some point and although cannot be cured, regimes can be implemented to slow the process and alleviate associated pain to aid performance and welfare.
Intermittent or consistent lameness, positive “flexion tests” at clinical examination, or stiffness or a short-stepping stride may all hint to arthritic changes.
For definitive diagnosis and a more accurate prognosis, nerve block assessments and often x-rays are indicated.  Both steps in diagnostics are important as bony change seen on x-rays, may not necessarily be the cause of the lameness, and may be the historic remnants of old issues. 
There are many varied management and drug regimes which help to alleviate the symptoms and pain associated with degenerative joint disease/arthritis.
It is important that horses continue with light exercise to keep joints supple through winter and when spelling; especially older horses who have a much greater risk of suffering from clinical signs of arthritis. 
The easiest supplements to administer are glucosamine based products that can be added to feed.  There is a wide range of these on the market at varying cost and many with additional ingredients. Different combinations suit different stages of disease so its best to talk to your vet as to which  is most appropriate.  There are also injectable forms of joint support aimed at promoting healthy cartilage matrix formation, useful for the repair of overworked and damaged areas.  Some of these products can be injected directly into the joint to provide high dose of tissue support at the site of disease.

Recent American research has shown joint supplements are useful for prevention of problems later.
Treatment options are :
Oral anti-inflammatories
Bute’ :useful in dampening the joints’ over-reaction to chronic stress injuries.
  • Short competition withhold options are now available
  • Ideal for use between events as the joint recovers to prevent detrimental effects of inflammation    
  • Corticosteroid injections give a more direct treatment of inflammatory joint problems
  • Joint supplements direct into joint or via muscle/vein injection for more direct absorption
Where an obvious acute injury has occurred that may trigger early onset of arthritis, surgery and careful management/exercise regimes may be useful alongside joint support to speed up the body’s repair and prevent further damage to the area.  Surgery can also be useful to assess the full degree of damage and resultant prognosis in large joints giving more detail than radiographs and ultrasound scans.
The large range of treatment options available allows us to tailor individual regimes for each horse depending on the stage of disease, horse’s work requirements and owner’s needs.  This is a more productive and proactive situation than the days of turning the horse away for a couple of months and hoping it would settle alone, it is also allowing the ageing horse population to remain competitively active for longer.
We recommend talking to your vet for the best treatment option and product for your situation as different products suit different stages of disease.