Equine arthritis, otherwise known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common cause of lameness in horses. While older horses are often affected, arthritis can strike at an early age, too, altering a promising career path. Over time, the self-feeding cycle of inflammation results in joint surface (cartilage) deterioration, painful joint capsule thickening and the breakdown of joint fluid. The body, in an attempt to heal the damage, lays down scar tissue and bone that decrease flexibility and overall joint function. There are several areas of prevention and management that focus on stopping the inflammation and supporting the structures of the joint, including proper trimming/shoeing, exercise, good footing, balanced nutrition, injections and responsible breeding.
The tried-and-true management strategy for arthritis is joint injections. The main goal of this therapy is to reduce the inflammation within the joint and help restore it to a more healthy state, therefore reducing pain and returning the horse back to his regular exercise routine. Most joints are injected with a corticosteroid along with hyaluronic acid. Corticosteroids are very strong anti-inflammatory drugs that break the cycle of inflammation. Hyaluronic acid is also available in an intravenous preparation under the brand name Legend. When given intravenously, it migrates to the joint and stimulates the joint to produce more joint fluid and also acts as an anti-inflammatory drug. Adequan is available in an intramuscular preparation that helps strengthen the cartilage and also stimulates the joint to produce more joint fluid. Bute and Banamine, are also used to help alleviate pain and decrease inflammation within the joint.