A Holistic Approach to Preventing and Treating Equine Arthritis

A Holistic Approach to Preventing and Treating Equine Arthritis

Image courtesy Neha Viswanathan | Flickr

Arthritis is a common issue among horses, especially as they grow older. While there are a number of studies about the holistic treatment of arthritis in humans, few such studies have been conducted about horses. However, a great deal of anecdotal evidence exists for treating arthritis in horses. Since all horses have unique biological needs, owners should find a trusted holistic veterinarian to oversee arthritis treatment.

Equine arthritis results from the normal wear and tear of the joints. The activity causes inflammation that results in the erosion of joint structures. Over time, the ligaments and tendons become less elastic, and joint cartilage diminishes as a result of inflammation. One of the main issues with arthritis is that it exacerbates its own development. When cells in the joints die, they release enzymes that damage or even kill nearby cells, which is turn causes a greater inflammatory response from the immune system. In general, arthritis treatment aims to stop this inflammation and provide the nourishment necessary to bring damaged cells back to health.

Signs of Arthritis in Horses

Arthritis treatment is most successful when it is detected early. Horse owners should familiarize themselves with the signs of the disease and seek veterinary attention as soon as symptoms become apparent. The most obvious sign of disease is a limp, which signals leg pain, but more subtle symptoms will generally become apparent before then. Since a horse’s chances of developing arthritis increase with age, people with older equines should pay special attention to them.

Some horses manifest physical symptoms, and their owners can clearly see puffiness in the joints and detect heat from the inflammation. Other horses will show signs of arthritis through their actions. Horses that suddenly become unwilling to perform basic tasks may be experiencing joint pain. In addition, horses that are in pain will often experience stiffness when they initially start to exercise, take shorter strides, or frequently raise their head and neck. In addition, they may hollow their backs. All of these behaviors indicate pain.

A Natural Approach to Treatment

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Once joints become damaged, they cannot be restored to their original condition. However, if you identify arthritis in your horse early, then you can slow its progress and often restore its joints to normal functionality. One of the most common forms of treatment involves nutritional supplements that help to strengthen the joints. The supplements contain many of the same nutrients given to humans with arthritis, such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine.

Chondroitin is a naturally occurring substance in joint cartilage, and chondroitin sulfate helps to block the function of enzymes that can kill cells. The supplement helps to stabilize the joints once horses show signs of arthritis and can even restore some degree of functionality, according to a study conducted in Toronto. However, researchers at Murray State University in Kentucky have concluded that collagen is actually more effective than other supplement for managing arthritis. The study concluded that chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine had healing effects, but that type II collagen yielded the best results.

Hyaluronic acid is also often used to treat arthritis in horses. However, since hyaluronic acid is a very large molecule, it is not easily absorbed by the body when administered orally. When given intravenously, horses tend to respond within a matter of weeks with significant joint recovery after a few months. This treatment may not work in horses with very advanced disease.

Individuals should also look into holistic means of treating the pain caused by arthritis. One of the best approaches involves the use of herbs, particularly Devil’s Claw and yucca. Devil’s Claw can reduce inflammation, and yucca has naturally occurring steroidal saponins. Over time, pain may increase to the point that these remedies no longer work. At this point, horse owners may want to talk to a veterinarian about the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as bute or banamine. These drugs can offer a lot of relief to horses that are struggling due to arthritis.

Preventing Arthritis

Preventing arthritis involves more than supplements. One of the most important elements of prevention is regular, controlled, and low-impact exercise. This type of exercise increases circulation, which can help to prevent the progression of arthritis. Exercise does not require great physical exertion, and it can be as simple as regular walks that help to increase blood flow. More intense exercise can strain the joints and lead to greater pain. Regular low-impact exercise helps horses that have begun showing signs of arthritis and can also prevent the development of disease in younger horses.

In addition to exercise, other physical aspects of a horse’s life need to be monitored. For example, inappropriate trimming and shoeing can put a significant amount of strain on the joints. Both sides of the hooves should be even in order to keep a horse balanced without putting pressure on its joints. An imbalance can cause the hoof to hit the ground unevenly, which impacts the joints in the legs. Heels that are too low and toes that are too long can also put undue stress on the joints.