Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease and particularly old horses suffer from it. Nevertheless also a wrong behavior of the rider can cause this disease: if horses get moved in a wrong way or need to offer too much physical activity at once this can cause osteoarthritis. Generally enough movement helps to relieve the pain.
If a horse has osteoarthritis the organism does not produce enough synovial fluid. This has a great importance because it avoids a friction between two bones. Due to this synovial fluid guarantees that bones can easily and painlessly glide along each other. In an early situation of the disease firstly only the articular cartilage gets reduced. In the cause of the disease one bone just lies next to another one so that they rub at each other. This causes a wear of the respective bones. The wear already causes great pain but often additionally there is an inflammation caused by bacteria. The bone, synovial membrane and joint capsule can get a massive change of their shape and structure. In the worst case osteoarthritis can lead to a pensioning of the horse: it feels great pain at every movement so that it is impossible to ride the horse.
Origins for osteoarthritis
In general medicine distinguishes between primary and secondary origins. Primary origins cause osteoarthritis in a direct way. In opposite to this secondary origins are caused by other diseases so that in this case osteoarthritis is a squeal. The most often primary origin is based on human misjudgment. Riders do not move their horse regularly which causes two problems at once: the organism does not produce enough synovial fluid anymore so that bones rub at each other. Additionally the musculature of the horse is not trained and due to this not strong enough to cushion the stress on the bones and joints. Referring to these two facts a sudden and exhausting training of the horse effects the bones and joints and they get damaged. Moreover the normal process of getting older is a further primary origin for osteoarthritis. Life leaves its marks so that the cartilage tissue is worn and reduced and cannot fulfill its function anymore. Other primary origins are overweight (too high stress/weight on the joints) and a damage of the metabolism.
The most common secondary origins are malpositions. A wrong positioning of the hooves and legs, for example if the horse has knock knees, causes a wrong and unnatural stress on certain joints and due to this an irregular wear of the cartilage tissue. Other joints, vertebras or the hip can lie in a wrong position due to a dislocation (luxation). The origin for a malposition often is based on a wrong shoeing or tension of certain parts of the musculature.
Symptoms for osteoarthritis
The most obvious symptom for osteoarthritis is equine lameness. Scientific research found out that nearly 70 % of equine lameness is based on a chronic situation of joint diseases! If the horse founders or walks in an irregular and stiff way horse owners need to contact a vet. Moreover one needs to notice if the horse avoids movements in any way or if it does not want to walk through tight turns.
Course of osteoarthritis
The algesia of the horse depends on the respective situation of the disease. At first it can be difficult to notice the disease so that preventive measurements hardly can be guaranteed. In the course of the disease from time to time the horse has an intensive suffering and its situation becomes worse. This often happens when the weather becomes cold and wet. Then the horse tries to move in an unnatural and cramped way because he wants to relieve the pain. Unfortunately this causes further negative effects: the tenseness results in pain of other joints.
Treatment and therapy
“A rolling stone gathers no moss”- this is not only a wisdom for us humans but also for horses. The best prevention for osteoarthritis and its painful effects is a lot of movement. If you move your horse regularly the organism will constantly produce synovial fluid. This avoids a further wear of the bones. Furthermore it is really important that horse owners strengthen their horses’ musculature in regular training units and warm up their horse carefully before exhausting physical activity. Riders need to notice and understand the body language of their horses (especially if a vet has already diagnosed that the horse has osteoarthritis): one must understand if the horse refuses to move in any way or if he avoids any kind of tight turns.
In an acute situation of this disease one needs to contact a vet. He will inject analgesic medicine (in the most cases cortisone). Additionally he can inject a further syringe which supports the production of synovial fluid for at least four weeks. A blacksmith can correct malpositions by a new shoeing so that respective joints get relieved. Moreover it may be helpful to contact an osteopath who can bring the hip or certain vertebras back into their original position. Furthermore it may help to involve a physiotherapist or any type of acupuncture.
Concerning the feeding it is really important to avoid any kind of silage, cereals or wheat bran. They all include phosphorus which inhibits a normal metabolism of the bones. In general, vets advice to feed a lot of calcium because this strengthens and supports the growth of the bones.
Beware of the first days on the pasture!
Horses that suffer from osteoarthritis may easily get problems if they come onto the pasture after a long winter in the stable. It is really important that they firstly keep their horseshoes on their hooves. Iron has spring effects so that they prevent the joints. After some time and when the horse already is used to all the movement again one can decide to take off the horseshoes (contact your blacksmith for any decision!).