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Michael Dym, V.M.D.
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When To Start Giving Joint Supplements To Your Horse

How soon is too soon to start your horse on joint supplements? While many horse owners associate joint aids with the senior years, you may be surprised to learn that even young horses can benefit from them.

When do horses develop osteoarthritis?
Over 60% of lameness in horses is associated with osteoarthritis. Horses with age-related joint degeneration may start to show symptoms as young as five years of age. However, wear and tear is not the only cause of arthritis. In young horses, the most common cause is athletic trauma. Rheumatoid arthritis, the autoimmune disorder that occurs in humans, is not common in horses.
As cartilage breaks down due to injury, repeated trauma, or everyday wear-and-tear, it’s not initially painful. Cartilage itself does not contain nerves to send pain signals to the brain. Pain does not occur until the cartilage has worn away and the joint is no longer protected. It’s only when bone rubs against bone, the condition becomes painful.
Keep in mind that arthritis is not curable. Joint degeneration cannot be reversed. In treating arthritis, our goal is to minimize pain and slow the degradation of the joints.
By starting your horse on joint supplements before they show any signs of pain, you may be able to prevent osteoarthritis. The preventative effects of joint supplements for horses have not been widely studied, though research on humans and other animals are promising. Side effects from joint supplements are relatively rare and mild, so there is little downside to starting too early.

When can my horse start joint supplements?
The potential benefits and side-effects of joint supplements on foals has not been studied. Pregnant mares and those intended for breeding should not take a joint supplement unless under the guidance of a veterinarian.
However, you do not have to wait until your horse stops growing at 6-8 years old to get your young horse started on a supplement. After two years of age, your horse’s growth will slow down substantially. While they will not reach their full adult height for another few years, you can start them on a low maintenance dose of a joint supplement as young as age two.
You may want to hold off until they begin riding training. A joint supplement contains naturally occurring compounds that are already found in your horse’s body. Adding these compounds to their diet can help support joint repair from the natural breakdown that occurs from daily use. Joint supplements can also help support healing from injuries.

Which joint supplements really work?
The most popular joint supplements for horses contain glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid (HA) and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). These compounds are often referred to as “the building blocks of the joints.” Research suggests they work best when taken in conjunction with one another.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in ingredients like flaxseed can help reduce inflammation and also support cognitive, heart, and immune health.
Supplements often contain lesser-known joint-benefiting ingredients too. Phycox has antioxidants like Vitamin C and selenium to help boost production of collagen and reduce oxidative damage.

How can I relieve my horse’s pain?
For horses that have already started to show signs of pain, it’s imperative that you talk to your veterinarian before introducing supplements. Many injuries and health conditions can cause symptoms that are similar to those caused by osteoarthritis.
Once your horse has been diagnosed with arthritis, you can work with your vet to decide which treatment options to choose, and when. Your horse’s joint supplement can help improve their mobility and reduce signs of inflammation. If they need more support, you can add supplements that help relieve pain.
Herbs like turmeric and yucca schidigera extract are often used in place of or alongside conventional treatments like steroids and NSAIDs. Keep in mind that even holistic supplements can cause contraindications. Talk to your veterinarian before starting a new supplement, especially if your horse has a chronic health condition or if they’re taking any prescription medications.