Winter Brings Increased, But Treatable Arthritis Pain in Horses

Winter brings difficulties to horse owners, but it also brings its own set of challenges to horses with osteoarthritis, veterinarians have informed.

Colloquially known as “bone spavin,” or “OA,” degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis is a common cause of lameness or poor performance in horses from all disciplines, they said.

“Plunging temperatures, deep snow and freezing rain are difficult enough for humans and horses to deal with, but did you know that even a change in barometric pressure may trigger joint discomfort?

“When a horse suffers from OA, the cartilage, bone and soft tissues in the joint deteriorate. These changes cause pain, deformity, loss of motion and decreased function,” according to Dr. Hoy Cheramie, veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health.

Clinical signs include decreased activity or mobility, stiffness or decreased movement of joints, heat, swelling, pain and lameness

There is no cure for OA, but it is possible to manage signs.

“Our aim is to control the progression of the disease by focusing on alleviating joint pain and inflammation, which allows the horse to maintain or increase mobility,” Cheramie explained.

With that in mind, he urged owners to continue exercising their horses during winter. By continuing with a training routine, it allows the joints to stay supple and moving.

“The more horses have a chance to stay fit, the better it is for their overall joint health,” Cheramie said.

“However, it is especially important for OA sufferers to have a warm-up and cool-down regimen before and after work, and that the work is not excessive,” he emphasized.

Slow, easy stretching movements were recommended before training to help loosen muscles and get the circulation going in stiff joints.

“Also, allow time afterwards for winding-down so the horse can relax and not lose too much body heat all at once. This also helps keep muscles loose,” Cheramie said.

Horse owners should consider the following cold weather management tips:

Caution needs to be taken when riding in deep, heavy or wet snow as this may be associated with tendon injuries.

If horses are exercised enough to generate sweat, clipping is advised to help them cool down faster.

Horses that are clipped or don’t have a thick hair coat need to be blanketed.

If riding is not possible, make an effort to turn horses out as often as possible.

If horses are stabled, be sure to provide ample bedding for warmth and to cushion elbows, hocks and other sensitive areas when lying down.

When OA associated pain and inflammation flare-ups do occur, a veterinarian should be discussed to discuss a management plan.

“One option owners may want to discuss with their veterinarian is administering a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve pain,” Cheramie said.

“There are many to choose from, but doing a little research into active ingredients, use in competitive situations and convenience in dosing can help make the choice easier,” he added.

One commercial name product, Equioxx inhibits inflammation-producing enzymes while safeguarding a number of normal body functions, including stomach protection. One daily dose fits into feeding.

Another pain management option veterinarians may consider is Surpass, a topical treatment that provides pain relief directly at the site of inflammation.

“To that end, work with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan that will help your horse feel his best in any type of weather,” Cheramie said.

“Our aim is to control the progression of the disease by focusing on alleviating joint pain and inflammation which allows the horse to maintain or increase mobility,” Cheramie insisted.