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    Arthritis in Horses: What To Do With Joint Pain in Horses

    Arthritis in Horses

    For an animal that lives on four legs, arthritis can hinder mobility and cause a serious degree of pain. When humans develop arthritis, though incredibly painful and restrictive, it may occur in our shoulders or elbows or even fingers, which means we still have the good fortune of being able to walk.

    For horses, the most common areas that are affected are their knees, fetlocks, and the hocks, so every movement tends to compound the inflamed joints even more. 

    In many cases, arthritis is hereditary and is simply unavoidable, but infections, injuries, and overuse of joints are all leading causes. Keep reading to learn more about what leads to arthritis, how best to prevent it, and a bit more about the disease itself. 

    What Exactly is Arthritis

    Osteoarthritis is one of the most common degenerative diseases found in horses. It affects the joints specifically due to a loss of cartilage between joints and the ends of bones.

    The immense pain that OA causes is due to the lack of cushioning available every time the joint and bone meet, which leads to lifelong problems such as lameness and stiffness, as well as periodical swelling. 

    Symptoms of Equine Arthritis 

    Some of the signs your horse has arthritis include:


    As your horse’s OA flares up, you’ll probably begin to notice swelling in the affected joints. This is due to a build up of excess joint fluid that can either be left to subside naturally or removed via joint aspiration with a needle and syringe. You’ll probably need to have horse insurance to cover the substantial costs, though.


    Stiffness is caused by reactionary behavior stemming from an underlying issue your horse has. This doesn’t just apply to arthritis; it can also happen as a result of dental issues, muscle pain, and other problems. In the case of OA, the lack of mobility will lead to hardening in your horse’s joints. As the usual movements become too painful, stiffness begins to set in.


    There are various explanations for why horses develop deformities in their hooves. Arthritis, however, is one of the main causes because horses tend to adjust how they walk in response to joint pain, and much-needed trimming might become too painful. Though trimming will relieve joint pain, it causes serious discomfort for horses with OA.

    Causes of Equine Arthritis 

    Injury: We don’t all walk away from injuries unscathed and sometimes, the injuries we do pick up, leave a mark that’s often permanent. Such is the case with arthritis. Horses are prone to leg problems and can end up with other more serious complications, like breakages, as a result. 

    Bacterial Infection: Should a joint become inflamed due to infection, there’s a good chance that the leftover injury can cause lasting damage. It always pays to treat bacterial infections as soon as possible to ensure your horse’s quality of life remains unchanged. 

    Age: Equine arthritis due to age simply can’t be helped. If it’s hereditary, you may see the symptoms setting in at any age. All you can do is make them more comfortable and continue providing the level of care you know they need. 

    The Best Methods For Managing It 

    There’s no cure or designated arthritis treatment for horses but there are plenty of things you can do as an owner and carer to make life more manageable for your horse. Your main priority should always be to reduce inflammation and prevent any further damage occurring in the joints. 

    Much of the damage caused to a horse’s bone cartilage and joints is irreparable, so be sure to turn to your vet for advice on the most effective drugs that are available for slowing inflammation and pain management, like corticosteroids and phenylbutazone. It’s worth noting that long-term use of anti-inflammation drugs can lead to serious side effects, like kidney failure. 

    Read more about: Colic in Horses - Symptoms, Types & Treatments

    Ways to Prevent It

    The average lifespan of a horse is between 25 and 30 years, and just like anyone of old age, arthritis becomes more common in horses as they hit their later years. In most cases, it’s unavoidable.

    But for young equines, there are certain measures you can take in order to prevent injury-induced osteoarthritis setting in, and all it requires as a responsible owner is just proper care.

    That means maintaining good conformation, providing decent overall care, and regular hoof trimming and shoeing.

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