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What Causes Arthritis In Horses?

Arthritis is a broad term that describes stiff, painful joints, and it may cause up to 60% of cases of lameness in horses. Though it’s most common in horses over 15, it can affect horses of any age, and the normal wear and tear of aging is not the sole cause.

What Causes Arthritis In Horses?
There are several types of arthritis that horses can develop, some more preventable than others.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type, caused by the degeneration of the cartilage that cushions the ends of your horse’s joints over time due to everyday wear and tear. Factors include excess weight, repeated stress on the joint due to athletic activities, old injuries, and genetics. Issues with hoof trimming or shoeing can affect your horse’s posture and may also contribute to joint degeneration.

Septic arthritis manifests as inflammation around the joint, and in some cases, around the bone and bone marrow as well. In foals, it’s typically caused by a bloodborne infection contracted in utero. In adult horses, it’s typically caused by bacteria entering the joint through a wound, surgery, or injury. If treated promptly, septic arthritis is an acute condition from which your horse can fully recover. However, a history of septic arthritis may contribute to osteoarthritis later in life.

How To Prevent Arthritis In Horses
Though you cannot stop the natural aging process, you can slow the deterioration of joints over time by keeping your horse at a healthy weight. You can prevent injuries that contribute to arthritis by giving your horse adequate time to warm up and cool down before and after exercise. Hoof upkeep and proper trimming also contributes to good joint health.

Joint supplements have been shown to slow the progression of osteoarthritis in human and animal studies. While great for seniors, they can be beneficial for joint health in younger horses too. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and promote the healing of injuries from athletic activities. Glucosamine and chondroitin, naturally-occurring compounds found in cartilage, can be supplemented to help protect joints.

If you suspect your horse has arthritis, don’t delay a visit with your veterinarian for treatment. Early treatment can slow the progression of osteoarthritis, increase your horse’s quality of life, and even keep them in riding shape.