When it comes to senior horses, most have “been there, done that.” It’s one of the reasons we love them, right? But because of their life experiences, older horses also come with their own set of special needs, one of them likely being joint care.
Just as in humans, arthritis is often a fact of life for senior horses. And depending on what the horse has done for most of his/her life, the level of severity can vary. While a trail or pleasure horse may have minor joint aches and pains, a retired barrel horse or jumper may have more severe joint problems.
Arthritis is a general term used to describe degeneration of articular surfaces of the joint caused by inflammation. When the inflammation becomes chronic, it leads to permanent deterioration of joint cartilage. It’s not uncommon for older horses to experience arthritis of the “knees”, hocks, or pasterns, all of which endure continual concussive forces throughout their lifetime.
If left unchecked, inflammatory enzymes will break down the synovial fluid in the joints, which leads to a vicious cycle of inflammation, causing pain, stiffness, and damage to the cartilage.
While arthritis can be “cured”, there are several proactive steps you can take to combat inflammation and make your senior horse more comfortable. The earlier you begin these steps, the better.
- Feed an anti-inflammatory diet, high in omega-3 fatty acids (fresh grass, hay, flaxseed, chia seeds, flax oil, etc.) and low in omega-6 fatty acids (grains, vegetable oils).
- Add a joint supplement into your horse’s diet. Glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and MSM are all good choices, and a combination product such as our new Super Sound Plus Powder will ensure total joint support. Herbs are another option, and our Herbiflex contains a natural blend of anti-inflammatory herbs including boswellia, fenugreek, turmeric, and yucca.
- Provide natural vitamin E to horses not grazing green pasture in order to support immune function, muscles, and nerve tissues. 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day is sufficient for most horses, but hard-working or stressed horses can be fed 3,000 to 5,000 IU per day.
- Keep your senior horse at a healthy weight. Overweight horses will have added strain on their joints as well as increased inflammation. Conversely, underweight horses may have nutrient deficiencies and weaker immune systems which can also lead to inflammation.
- Maintain your senior horse’s hooves. Long or unbalanced hooves place added strain on the joints which can worsen arthritic symptoms.
- Keep your senior horse moving! Whether riding, lunging, or just allowing your horse plenty of pasture time, movement will increase circulation, reduce inflammation, and nourish joints.
Many horse owners turn to Bute (Phenylbutazone) for pain relief. Bute belongs to a group of medications known a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and have side effects such as stomach or colon ulcers and can also cause kidney damage. More recent research has found that Bute can slow the production of joint cartilage and delay bone healing. Bute also interferes with thyroid function. Our organic herbal formula “Bjute” is a great pain relieving alternative and can be used long term without the harmful side effects associated with using Bute.