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Arthritis In the Horse

Arthritis, we hear that term many times a day around the stables. But what does it really mean? There are many types of arthritis that occur in animals and people. In horses arthritis is most often the result of trauma to the skeletal structure, most often to the lower front legs and feet.

When we look at the horse’s legs and feet we tend to see petite limbs holding up massive animals. The fact is though that the legs of horses are extremely strong if allowed to develop normally and the feet are really much bigger than they appear. Hooves are actually compressed sizes of feet folded extremely well inside the hoof wall to allow for strength and high speed retreat. Horses are really not fighters but would prefer to escape their enemies by running away.

Arthritis develops as the result of trauma, repetitive use/injury to the area affected, or poor nutrition. For instance, if we begin training or riding a horse at an early age, before the development of the bone structure is at least approaching maturity, the result can be permanent damage to the leg bones and feet.

We have all seen shin splints in a runner and the effects of rickets which show as enlargements to the bone structure especially at the joints in the leg and elsewhere. This alone is enough to suggest to us that working and training prematurely the two year old horse should be done with care. Add to this the result of trauma or repetitive trauma to the skeletal system and we have arthritis developing at the sites of injury. Even slight injuries to the any part of the skeletal system can be persistent and develop into more serious conditions, sometimes irreversible. Over training is a common problem and you know your horse better than anyone, giving a hoarse time to heal from even minor injuries is just as important as training it.

In horses we most often see this traumatic arthritis exhibited as joint disease in the lower legs and feet. Navicular disease, ringbone, side bone, and other forms of lower limb arthritis are the most common. We often see fractures of the carpal bones in the knee as a result of overextension of the limb during running or sudden stopping. Each day it is important to really watch your horses behavior and movements to look for anything out of the normal, however slight it might be. Early intervention can often make all the difference and this requires knowing your horse. It is best to closely examine your horse before every use. That is one reason why grooming is so important. It puts you close to every part of your horse.

So what really happens with arthritis? This is often called degenerative joint disease or DJD.

The bone structure in various areas of the horse gets bruised or even broken in small, sometimes tiny areas of the lower limb joints. This bruising or damage results in swelling, bleeding and the release of histamine and other body chemicals which stimulate the body begin the healing process. The healing often results in the body attempting to strengthen or repair the damage by producing more bone structure. This new structure is a natural attempt by the horses body to limit further damage. Unfortunately, it can also result in pain as the two close pieces of bone rub each other in the joint. The cartilage in the joints can also be affected by wear and tear. It can be worn down by friction or damaged by a stray piece of broken bone. This too may well result in joint disease.

In summary, arthritis is really just the bodies way of trying to fix what is broken, an injury, poor nutrition, working young horses too hard, too soon or simply a stumble or fall or misstep by an adult horse in the normal work day. Horse owners don’t want this to happen but we can be aware of it and be sure to care for our horses and not overwork them or run them on hard surfaces, etc.

Nutrition and suppliants can also play a vital part, just like in humans and athletes. Vitamins and supplements also play a role in prevention and healing too. Proper vitamin levels provide for stronger more healthy bone growth, healing and good nutrition.

We use EQUIVITE® and it really works well in providing great opportunity for healthy bone structure, elevation of healing, and supplements nutrition.

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