What are the Risk Factors for Arthritis in Horses?

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Arthritis in horses is sadly a common joint condition that affects horses of every age, breed, and discipline. While it is an incurable joint disease, the pain and progression of equine arthritis can be slowed, and even largely prevented.

Even though all horses are susceptible to this joint disease, there are a number of known risk factors that increase the risk to your horse. By knowing these risks, you can take steps early in your horse’s life and career to mitigate them.

In this article, we share the seven risk factors associated with equine arthritis to help horse owners, like you, intervene to prevent the pain and progression of arthritis.

Arthritis in Horses

You’ve likely heard the terms – osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, equine arthritis, but what do they mean? At a foundational level, all of these terms describe the same thing: inflammation of one or more joints.

In horses, equine arthritis usually affects the knee, fetlock, hock, coffin, and pastern joints. While its causes are varied – from age and infection to injury and athletic activity – the end result is painful degeneration of the joint.

7 Risk Factors of Equine Arthritis

As more becomes understood about arthritis in horses, we’ve identified some common risk factors that predispose horses to equine arthritis.

  1. Developmental Orthopaedic Disease (DOD)

The stage may be set for equine arthritis later in life during your horse’s formative years if they develop DOD, which refers to a range of bone and joint abnormalities that occur when cartilage is converted to bone as a young foal grows.

  1. Musculoskeletal Trauma

Bone and soft tissue injuries can lead to arthritis in several ways. Major injuries that cause inflammation can destroy cartilage, while puncture wounds can introduce infectious organisms into joints.

Additionally, loss of condition during recovery and compensatory postures and movements adopted by your horse can also cause further stress on their joints.

  1. Training Prior to Physical Maturity

Going slow is one of the best decisions you can make when training your young horse as their cartilage is incredibly vulnerable. Avoid hard or repetitive work, and tailor your training regime to their development, allowing for plenty of rest days.

  1. Poor or Inconsistent Hoof Care

Slipshod farriery work and missed appointments both contribute to the development of arthritis. A balanced hoof supports all the joints above, making it of vital importance that you select a trusted farrier/trimmer and maintain regular hoof care.

  1. Prolonged Periods of Inactivity

Physical activity is critical in keeping your horse fit, both in terms of their athletic ability and their joints and the surrounding structures. Your horse should be active year-round through regular exercise and turnout with a friendly herd.

  1. Over-work

On the flipside, too much work and not enough rest can also increase the risk of arthritis. You must provide your horse with periodic rest days to allow their body to manage the minor inflammatory processes associated with physical activity.

  1. Obesity

Excess weight places unnecessary strain on your horse’s joints. For overweight horses, adjust their daily feed ration to reduce their overall caloric intake and increase their physical activity, but be cautious about the dangers of over-work.

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