Arthritis in Horses: Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

arthritis in horses supplements

Arthritis is a common condition in horses that affects the joints and causes inflammation, pain, and stiffness. This condition can significantly affect the horse’s performance and quality of life. Arthritis can occur in any joint, but it is more prevalent in the hocks, knees, fetlocks, and coffin joints. There are various types of arthritis, and the symptoms and severity of the condition depend on the type and the affected joint. Arthritis can be treated, and with proper management, horses can lead a comfortable and active life.

How does Arthritis Occur?

Arthritis occurs in horses when there is damage or wear and tear to the cartilage, a smooth tissue that covers the joints’ ends. Cartilage acts as a cushion and allows the bones to move smoothly without rubbing against each other. When the cartilage becomes damaged, it can no longer function correctly, and the bones start to rub against each other, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Over time, this can lead to the formation of bony growths around the joint, known as osteophytes, which can further exacerbate the condition.

Several factors can contribute to the development of arthritis in horses. These include trauma to the joint, such as a kick or fall, overuse of the joint, genetic predisposition, conformational issues, such as cow-hocked or sickle-hocked, and aging.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Horses

The symptoms of arthritis in horses vary depending on the affected joint and the severity of the condition. Some common signs to look out for include:

  • Lameness: Lameness is a common sign of arthritis in horses. The horse may show an uneven gait, have difficulty moving, or appear stiff.
  • Swelling: Swelling around the joint is also a common symptom of arthritis. The swelling may be mild or severe, depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Heat: The affected joint may feel warm to the touch due to inflammation.
  • Stiffness: The horse may have difficulty moving or appear stiff, especially after a period of rest.
  • Pain: Arthritis can cause pain in the affected joint, especially when the horse is bearing weight or moving.
  • Changes in behavior: Horses with arthritis may become irritable or unwilling to work. They may be less willing to move or may resist certain movements, such as turning or jumping.

Horse Arthritis in Hocks

Arthritis in the hocks is a common and often debilitating condition in horses. The hock joint, also known as the tarsus, is located in the hind leg and is responsible for supporting the weight of the horse and providing mobility. Arthritis in the hocks can cause pain, lameness, and reduced mobility, making it difficult for the horse to perform its normal activities.

Signs of Arthritis in Horses’ Back Legs

Arthritis can also affect other joints in the horse’s back legs, such as the fetlocks, pasterns, and knees. Symptoms of arthritis in these joints may include lameness, stiffness, swelling, and pain.

Arthritis in the fetlocks can cause the horse to stand with its hind legs further under its body to relieve pressure on the affected joint. Arthritis in the pasterns can cause the horse to have a shortened stride and may lead to lameness. Arthritis in the knees can cause the horse to have difficulty bending its legs and may lead to reduced mobility.

Arthritis in Horses Treatments

There are several different treatments available to manage arthritis in horses, ranging from medications to surgery to natural remedies. These include:

  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often prescribed to manage pain and inflammation associated with arthritis in horses. These medications, such as phenylbutazone and flunixin meglumine, can help reduce pain and inflammation and improve the horse’s mobility. However, prolonged use of NSAIDs can have adverse effects on the horse’s gastrointestinal tract and liver, so they should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian.
  • Joint injections: Joint injections of corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid can help reduce inflammation and improve joint mobility. These injections are often used in the hock joint, as well as other joints in the horse’s legs. However, joint injections are not without risks and can lead to infection or joint damage if not performed correctly.
  • Regenerative therapies: Regenerative therapies, such as stem cell therapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, can help stimulate the body’s natural healing process and promote tissue regeneration in the affected joint. These therapies are still relatively new and their effectiveness in treating arthritis in horses is still being researched.
  • Surgery: In severe cases of arthritis, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove damaged tissue or fuse the affected joint. Surgical intervention can help relieve pain and improve the horse’s mobility, but it can also be costly and have a long recovery time.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can also be helpful in managing arthritis in horses. Exercises, such as stretching and range-of-motion exercises, can help improve joint mobility and reduce stiffness.

Treating Arthritis in Horses Naturally

In addition to conventional treatments, there are also natural remedies that can be used to manage arthritis in horses. These include:

  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a complementary therapy that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the horse’s body. This therapy can help reduce pain and improve joint mobility.
  • Massage: Massage can also be helpful in managing arthritis in horses. Massaging the affected joint can help reduce stiffness and improve circulation.
  • Herbal supplements: Some herbal supplements, such as devil’s claw and yucca, have anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to manage arthritis in horses. However, it is important to consult with a veterinarian before using any herbal supplements, as they can interact with other medications.
  • Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight is important for managing arthritis in horses. Excess weight can put additional strain on the joints and exacerbate the condition.

What Prevents Arthritis

While there is no surefire way to completely prevent arthritis in horses, there are some measures that horse owners can take to reduce the risk of their horse developing arthritis or to slow its progression. These measures include:

  • Proper nutrition: Providing a balanced and nutrient-dense diet can help keep horses at a healthy weight and reduce the risk of joint damage caused by excessive weight or poor nutrition. In particular, diets high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in flaxseed and fish oil, may have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce joint inflammation.
  • Exercise and conditioning: Regular exercise and conditioning can help keep horses’ joints healthy and prevent stiffness and arthritis caused by inactivity. However, it is important to start with a gradual exercise program to avoid injury or overexertion.
  • Proper hoof care: Proper hoof care, including regular trimming and shoeing, can help reduce the risk of joint damage caused by poor hoof balance or conformation.
  • Avoidance of repetitive stress: Repetitive stress injuries can lead to arthritis, so it is important to avoid overworking horses or performing repetitive tasks, such as jumping or running on hard surfaces.
  • Early detection and treatment: Early detection and treatment of joint problems can help prevent arthritis from developing or slow its progression. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring for signs of joint problems can help ensure prompt treatment.


As a horse owner, it is important to monitor your horse’s joint health and be proactive in preventing or managing arthritis. This can include providing a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and ensuring appropriate exercise and rest. By taking these steps, you can help ensure your horse’s overall health and well-being.

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