arthritis in horses, treatment prevention and diagnosis

Arthritis In Horses: Symptoms Treatment and Prevention

Last Updated on September 1, 2020

Are you caring for a horse with arthritis?

Do you have questions about how to diagnose, treat, or prevent this potentially crippling condition?

After reading this article you will understand how equine arthritis can effect your horse, how to spot the symptoms, and the best way to treat it and make your horse comfortable.

For more essential equine health information and tips, check out these articles.

What is Horse Arthritis?

Arthritis in horses is very similar to arthritis in human beings. It is in fact a degenerative joint disease.

Many horses suffer from this as they get older, and the condition isn’t something that can be completely cured, but you can improve the quality of life for a horse with arthritis.

When this disease starts to set in, the cartilage in a horse’s joints will begin to break down.

This can cause the horse a significant amount of pain and will make it more difficult for them to move around.

When arthritis is severe enough, it can cause the horse to become lame. Negatively impacting their performance and quality of life.

Even horses that were once used for competitive riding will need to be retired when arthritis has impaired their mobility.

Equine arthritis is a condition that will need to be managed properly to ensure the health and happiness of the horse is maintained.

This is not an unusual situation either, as many horses tend to have problems with arthritis once they get old enough.

There is also a rarer form of arthritis that is seen in some horses that have compromised immune systems known as septic arthritis.

This type of arthritis can also present itself when a horse suffers an injury near a joint that is afflicted with arthritis.

Treating this type of arthritis is not as simple as the normal type, as getting the proper medicine to the joint capsule is difficult.

What Are the Symptoms of Horse Arthritis?

  • Joint Stiffness
  • Joint Swelling
  • Lameness
  • Diminished activity level

The symptoms of arthritis in horses will be familiar to anyone who knows about arthritis in humans.

It can cause general stiffness in the joints. Sometimes the joints will swell and cause greater pain than usual.

Certain joints in horses tend to have more problems with arthritis.

The hock, carpus, and fetlock are often afflicted with arthritis once a horse advances in age.

This can make riding difficult for these horses, and they need to be treated with care.

General lameness is also a symptom of arthritis in horses.

A horse that is suffering from arthritis simply will not be as spry as they once were.

It becomes more difficult for them to move around as the condition worsens.

What Causes Equine Arthritis and How Does a Horse Get it?

For the most part, the cause of arthritis is simply old age and joint wear.

As horses advance in age, they become more susceptible to conditions such like arthritis.

Through many years of use, the joints become worn down.

Trauma to the joints will eventually lead to arthritis problems.

A horse that has been ridden hard over the years may wind up suffering from arthritis somewhat earlier than others due to the wear on the joints.

Septic arthritis is caused by suffering a wound near a joint.

This type of arthritis in horses is much less common, but it is something that you should be aware of.

When a wound becomes infected, it can cause septic arthritis and create a lot of problems for your horse.

Wounds that run the risk of causing septic arthritis need to be treated properly as soon as possible.

The right treatments such as antibiotics can lessen the overall risk of septic arthritis setting in. 

Horse Arthritis Diagnosis

Typically, an equine veterinarian is going to do a thorough physical examination of your horse to diagnose it properly. 

They will look at the joints very closely and perform several tests in order to see what is going on.

Your vet will also perform an x-ray in order to take a deeper look at just what is happening with your horse’s joints.

An x-ray should be able to determine just how bad the arthritis is.

Your equine vet is going to be able to see a visual representation of what is going on with each joint that they suspect is having problems.

Once this is finished, they will be able to definitively say whether or not your horse has arthritis.

How to Treat Horse Arthritis 

Treatments for arthritis can differ depending on how bad the arthritis is.

This isn’t a condition that can be cured.

Treatments are about managing the condition and keeping the horse as happy as possible.

There are several medications that can help to alleviate the pain of arthritis.

Anti-inflammatory drugs can be prescribed in order to reduce the risk of swelling and to manage pain symptoms. 

Joint health supplements can be beneficial.

A medicated mix with a soaking boot on the effected joints can greatly reduce swelling and pain. 

Injections are another common treatment for arthritis.

Certain injections such as corticosteroids have proven to be effective at helping to ease the symptoms of arthritis.

Even stem cells have been used to treat arthritis in horses, although this treatment is more experimental with limited research backing its effectiveness.

Antibiotics are imperative when trying to treat septic arthritis.

Getting rid of the infection will be the primary concern of a veterinarian, and then they will turn to pain management.

No matter what type of arthritis your horse is suffering from, there are treatments that can help to manage the condition safely.

Equine Arthritis Prevention Tips

  • Warm up and cool down every time you work your horse
  • Feed a well balanced diet
  • Maintain proper hoof care
  • Complete regular vet checks

For more equine tips and guides read these posts


Arthritis does not have to be the end of the world. With proper nutrition, care, and attention you can minimize pain and increase the quality of life for your horse.

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