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Arthritis in Horses: Causes, Prevention and Cures

Arthritis is sadly one of the most common ailments to affect horses, particularly later in life. Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that afflicts many horses, affecting their quality of life and general health. Arthritis is painful, making it difficult for a horse to have full-range of movement with ease. The condition is normally slow developing, wearing down the joints, resulting in pain and lameness. Although it cannot be completely cured, it can be managed effectively in a way that allows horses to maintain a decent quality of life.

Causes of Arthritis

Arthritis is most commonly found in older horses and is one of the most common reasons why a horse is retired from riding. In its early stages, arthritis may appear as a slight stiffness to the horse which reduces once the horse has warmed up and is moving. However, arthritis breaks down the cartilage material – stopping it from repairing itself properly. This causes the cartilage to become damaged, causing pain and joint inflammation. Arthritis most commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the legs and hooves where extra stress is caused.

Despite arthritis being common in older horses, there is an acute form of arthritis which can be found in younger horses and is caused by a bacterial infection. This type of arthritis is called septic arthritis and is detrimental to horses as it can be extremely difficult to treat. Septic arthritis is found in young horses that have compromised immune systems or diseases and is also common in horses who have suffered a traumatic injury near a joint. Antibiotics may be used to treat this form of arthritis. However, irreversible damage may have been done to the joints as a result of the bacterial infection – leaving it untreatable.

Why is Arthritis Common in Older Horses?

Arthritis is a degenerative disease and, therefore, is commonly found in older horses. The constant wear and tear of the joints over long periods of time can cause inflammation and erosion of the joint structures. Arthritis is common in older horses because, as they age, they tend to lose some of the elasticity in their tendons and ligaments which leads to cell death, fibrous tissues and a thinning of the joint cartilage.

Changes such as the above can reduce a horse’s natural shock absorbing capabilities, resulting in increased trauma to the joint causing inflammation. Past joint injuries or infections can also cause a horse to be more susceptible to arthritis.

Determining Whether Your Horse Has Arthritis

Common signs your horse has arthritis include excessive swelling around the joints, irrational or uncontrollable behaviour, lameness, general discomfort that is displayed both inside and outside of the stable and a severe reluctance to exercise in any circumstances.

If your horse is showing any signs of arthritis, it is important to contact your veterinarian and have them analyse your horse to rule out other problems. If your horse is developing arthritis, your vet will assist you in determining the severity of the problem before helping you with a treatment plan.

How to Help Your Horse Manage Arthritis

Unfortunately, there is little you can do to prevent the onset of arthritis – it is an unfortunate but natural part of ageing. Your veterinarian will be able to help diagnose arthritis in your horse with a physical and lameness examination, as well as an x-ray to discern the severity of the arthritis. However, there are a number of steps you can take to help keep the problem under control, allowing your horse to enjoy its later years in relative comfort.


Consider adapting your horse’s diet. Adding a joint-enhancing supplement can help reduce the effects of wear and tear on the horse’s joints. Feeding your horse on a diet high on omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the inflammation and pain caused by arthritis.


Regular massages can be extremely beneficial in managing arthritis symptoms in your horse. A massage can help alleviate any stress and strain on the joints, keeping your horse comfortable.

Regular Exercise

It is important to make time for regular exercise and ensure that older horses do not remain idle for extended periods of time. Regular exercise, no matter how light, can help reduce the effect of arthritis on the body of an older horse. Exercise is extremely beneficial for older horses, whether they have arthritis or not because it increases circulation, nourishes joints and helps to strengthen muscles and tendons. Work with your veterinarian to determine the most effective exercise programme for your horse as each horse is different and will require a different regime.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

To help reduce the effects of arthritis on your horse, it is important you help him maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts unnecessary strain on your horse’s joints and muscles, meaning overweight horses tend to be less agile and more likely to injure themselves. While overly thin horses may lack muscle strength that is urgently required to support proper and healthy joint function. Work with your veterinarian to help your horse maintain a healthy weight.

Therapeutic Shoeing

You may not realise this but cases of arthritis can flare up as a result of poor shoeing, causing discomfort and pain. If your horse has poor shoeing, it is worth considering having a professional carry out therapeutic shoeing – this can offer impressive results in reducing pressure on the joints, reducing the effects of arthritis on the body.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Anti-inflammatory drugs are wonderfully effective at managing the problem of arthritis and keeping it under control. Anti-inflammatory drugs are ideal for keeping painful arthritic swelling to a minimum. Although a short-term fix, they can help ensure your horse stays as comfortable as possible.

Advanced Surgery

Depending on the severity of your horse’s symptoms, your veterinarian may suggest surgery as the best solution. Surgical procedures will remove cartilage debris, help simulate bone growth and assist in joint repair. However, surgery is a serious undertaking and should only be considered on the advice of your veterinarian. Surgery should always be viewed as a last resort.

Contact Prime Stables Today

A horse with arthritis that is well looked after, kept in a good exercise regime, has medications and supplements and regular massages should be able to manage the symptoms of arthritis and enjoy a good lifestyle. It is important, as horse owners, that we are aware of any changes in our horse’s behaviour and are able to make the necessary adjustments to ensure a good-quality of life for our horses. Proper care is imperative to help them to remain healthy and happy well into their senior years.

For more information about arthritis in horses, or to ask any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Prime Stables today. Our staff would be more than happy to help!

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