Warm weather may be lingering, but if you’ve got an older horse with arthritis, it’s not too soon to begin formulating a plan to help him cope with the challenges of the winter ahead.
Here are three things you can do to help keep your older, arthritic horse healthy and comfortable as winter conditions set in.
1. Start (or update) a supplement regimen. A huge selection of joint-support supplements are available. It can take several weeks for the effects to “kick in,” so now is the time to think about choosing one—conferring with your veterinarian if necessary. Also, new formulations come on the market each year. If your horse has already been on a supplement, review what’s now available to ensure that it’s still the best option.
2. Consider oral and/or injectable medications. Anti-inflammatory medications can help keep an arthritic horse moving with minimal pain. A low daily dose of phenylbutazone can be safe for healthy horses, or your veterinarian may suggest a coxib medication, like firocoxib, which has a lower risk of side effects.
You may also want to ask your veterinarian about joint injections—they aren’t just for elite equine athletes. Steroids or hyaluronic acid (or both) delivered directly into a joint space are powerful weapons against inflammation, providing nearly immediate pain relief. The effects can last from a few weeks to months, depending on the individual. These injections do carry a slight risk of infection, which you will want to discuss with your veterinarian so you can make the wisest decision for your horse.
3. Plan ahead for turnout. It’s vital to keep arthritic horses moving in winter. Not only does even mild exercise “prime” his joints with fluid but it keeps the muscles and tendons that stabilize them strong. In addition to riding, try to turn your older horse out as much as possible, even in cold weather. If footing in your fields gets slick or choppy when temperatures drop, plan to have a backup turn-out space, such as an indoor arena. In a pinch, hand-walking an older horse up and down a barn aisle for 30 minutes a few times a day is better than nothing.