9 Ways To Support Your Horse’s Joint Health

Are you doing enough to improve your horse's joint health? With the arthritis preventives, treatments and therapies available today, it's easier than ever to help horses live long and happy lives.
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Here’s a rundown of feed supplements, injectable products and biological treatments that can help prevent equine arthritis, encourage healing and promote overall joint health.

Support your horse’s joint health

Because injury and general wear and tear on joints can contribute to decreased athleticism and negatively impact quality of life, preparing and protecting your horse’s joint health is important.

  1. Corticosteroids mimic the effects of hormones produced by the adrenal gland. Oral corticosteroids are usually used for horses with multiple joint problems or when the affected joint is not identified. When prescribed in levels higher than naturally found in the body, they suppress systemic inflammation. Injectable corticosteroids have a powerful anti-inflammatory action that halts destructive processes while relieving the horse’s pain. They do have some potential side effects, however, including adverse impact on cartilage and increased risk of laminitis among horses predisposed to the condition.
  2. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the horse’s body uses to produce and repair cartilage. Often combined with chondroitin in oral supplements for horses, glucosamine is most commonly derived from the shells of shellfish but it can also be produced using Aspergillus niger fungus or from fermenting corn.
  3. Hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid, HA) also known as sodium hyaluronate, HA binds to water to create a viscous, lubricating fluid. Found in connective tissue, cartilage and synovial fluid, HA can be injected directly into arthritic joints, administered as an intravenous injection or administered orally through feed supplements. HA has an anti-inflammatory effect and stimulates the production of more HA, which thickens the synovial fluid and increases its cushioning ability within the joint.
  4. Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) IRAP blocks a protein that accelerates joint damage. Serum containing IRAP and other beneficial mediators is derived from a horse’s own blood. It is injected into the same horse’s inflamed joint.
  5. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), derived from DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), is an organic compound containing sulfur, which is used in the production of collagen and connective tissue. MSM helps give collagen stability and strength and enhances the function of glucosamine.
  6. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications interrupt the inflammatory process of arthritis, providing pain relief while slowing the cycle of cartilage destruction. Some NSAIDs, such as phenylbutazone, inhibit protective as well as destructive enzymes, raising the potential of adverse side effects, such as gastric ulcers, with long-term use. The drug firocoxib (Equioxx) belongs to a different class of NSAIDs that inhibit only destructive enzymes.
  7. Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs) are complex sugars naturally found in articular cartilage. Injected to stimulate production of hyaluronic acid as well as inhibit the degeneration of cartilage, PSGAGs have an anti-inflammatory effect and are believed to stimulate the production of synovial fluid, prevent further degradation of cartilage and facilitate repair. The most common PSGAG can be injected intramuscularly as well as directly into a joint.
  8. Soybean and avocado extracts (avocado soybean unsaponifiables) ASU blocks inflammatory chemicals, prevents deterioration of cartilage and stimulates the repair of connective tissue. Simply feeding horses avocados and soybeans will not have a beneficial effect.
  9. Stem-cell therapy involves harvesting undifferentiated cells from a horse’s body and, in most cases, injecting them back into the same horse’s damaged joint to turn into cartilage cells for repairs. One of the latest developments in this field is extracting stem cells from tooth buds of newborn foals to inject into other horses.