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How to protect your horse’s joints
Dr Finola McConaghy, BVSc, DipVetClinStud, PhD Technical Manager at Ceva Animal Health
Joint disease or arthritis is a common cause of lameness in horses, and results in painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Joint disease is a serious disease and requires veterinary attention and treatment. Treatment of acute joint injury involves rest, ice, bandaging and anti-inflammatories. There are specific veterinary prescribed medications that can help treat joint disease. Chondroprotective agents are medications which help protect cartilage. In addition to veterinary prescribed treatments there are nutritional supplements you can use which can help to both treat joint disease and prevent it occurring.
WHAT ARE CHONDROPROTECTIVE DRUGS?
- Chondroprotective drugs have the following actions which help protect cartilage:1
- Support production of cartilage which covers bone ends
- Support production of hyaluronic acid, a key component of joint fluid
- Inhibit chemicals released during inflammation which breakdown cartilage and damage joint fluid Improve blood flow to cartilage to allow for cartilage healing
There are a number of different chondroprotective drugs available; these include Pentosan polysulfate, Hyaluronic acid, Glucosamine and Chondroitin.
Your veterinarian can advise you regarding the products only available from your vet, Pentosan polysulfate and Hyaluronic acid.
Information is provided below regarding the readily available oral supplements glucosamine and chondroitin.
WHAT IS GLUCOSAMINE AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
Glucosamine is the building block for cartilage. The body converts glucose from the diet into glucosamine to build cartilage. It has been shown that increasing the amount of glucosamine available to cartilage through supplementation stimulates the increased production of cartilage.2 Glucosamine is absorbed orally and will preferentially be taken up by the joints.3
WHAT IS CHONDROITIN AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
Chondroitin sulfate is a major component of cartilage. Chondroitin forms part of a network within the cartilage which allows cartilage to be flexible and resilient. Supplementary chondroitin can be taken up by cartilage and assist in replacing damaged chondroitin within the cartilage network and also help reduce ongoing cartilage damage.3 Chondroitin is also absorbed orally and preferentially taken up by joints.⁴
COMBINING GLUCOSAMINE AND CHONDROITIN
The combination of glucosamine and chondroitin has been shown to have a synergistic effect.⁵ This means that the effect of the combination is greater than the sum of each agent alone, 1 + 1 = 3. This combination both stimulates cartilage production and inhibits cartilage damage, providing a true chondroprotective effect. This combination of agents has been shown in clinical trials in horses to have beneficial effects in reducing the symptoms of joint disease.⁶
WHAT IS MSM AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
MSM stands for Methyl Sulfonyl Methane and is a supplementary source of sulfur. Sulfur is the third most abundant mineral in the body and is an essential component of many compounds, in particular connective tissue. It has been shown that arthritic cartilage in horses contains one-third less sulfur than normal cartilage and MSM is recommended as a supplement for joint disease in horses.⁷ MSM also appears to have an anti-inflammatory action and has been shown to reduce symptoms of joint disease in horses.⁸
HOW CAN YOU HELP PREVENT JOINT DISEASE IN YOUR HORSE?
The best way to prevent joint disease is to avoid joint strain and trauma, which can be challenging in performance horses. In general:
- Choose a horse with good conformation
- Maintain your horse’s fitness and body weight, regular exercise strengthens muscles which can help support joints and optimal body weight reduces stress on joints
- Have your horse shod by a reputable farrier and maintain their hooves regularly
- Exercise your horse on good, even ground, such as a well maintained dressage arena
- Avoid over exercising unfit horses
- Keep horses in paddocks free of rocks and rabbit holes
- Check your horse’s joints regularly and after any galloping, consult your veterinarian if there is any joint swelling
- Feed a good nutritional supplement which has a chondroprotective action and contains Glucosamine, Chondroitin and possibly MSM such as Joint Guard
Joint Guard is designed for daily administration to provide a regular supply of these critical components to the joint. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you the best way to manage your own horse, as each horse is an individual. The steps mentioned above, coupled with a good working relationship with your veterinarian, should give you the best results.
- Ghosh P, et al. 1992 Second Line Agents in the Treatment of Rheumatic Diseases. NY, 363-427
- Setnikar, I. et al. 1991. Arzeim/Drug. Res. 157-161.
- Bucci L. 1994, Townsend Let. for Doctors, 1; 52-54.
- Conte A, et al. 1995 Arzneim./Drug Use. 45; 918-925.
- Anderson M. 1999, Comp. Cont. Educ. 21(7); 601-609.
- Hanson et al. 1997. Vet. Ortho. Soc. Proc., 5.
- Jones WE 2000, J. Eq. Vet. Sci., 20: 160-3
- Sellnow L 1996, Western Horseman, April: 16-22
Joint Guard Powder for horses is available from Amacron Equine: https://www.amacron.com.au/products/joint-guard-powder-for-horses-1-5kg