Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Arthritis In Horses - By: Karen E.N. Hayes, DVM
What it is: Also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), it's
progressive joint inflammation due to trauma or wear and tear,
leading to erosion of articular joint cartilage, which becomes
frayed and thinned, causing pain and loss of function. Arthritis
mainly affects your horse's weight-bearing joints.

Why your senior horse is at risk: Regardless of how good his
conformation is, his risk of arthritis increases with every
passing year. That's because the longer he lives, the bigger a
target he becomes for injuries and wear and tear that lead to
joint degeneration. His joints almost never get a break. Even
standing at rest they're bearing his weight on tiny patches of

Plus, there's a metabolic shift that occurs around age 15,
leading to an escalation of cell death within bone, cartilage,
and fibrous tissue. Tendons and ligaments become less elastic,
more easily torn. Cartilage thins, absorbing less shock. Its
shape changes, too, due to a lifetime of pressure and torque,
causing joint bones to be less aligned and the cartilage,
ligaments, and tendons more susceptible to strain. And, your
horse's reactions slow down with age-especially if he's retired
to an inactive life- style-making him more prone to a misstep.

The faster you identify arthritis in your horse, the quicker you
can attack it. There are two kinds of equine arthritis: the
sneaky kind and the obvious kind. In the obvious kind, the
joint's been traumatized or infected, so is sore enough to cause
lameness. Your horse is lame-you call the vet. In the sneaky
kind, the joint isn't sore at first, so there's little or no
lameness. But that doesn't mean that arthritis isn't marching
forward. The first signpost will be a little joint puffiness. If
you don't look for it, you'll likely miss it-and miss out on your
chance to help minimize future joint damage. Watch for these
subtle but telltale signposts:

Slight puffiness in lower-leg joints.
Stiff, choppy gait when you first begin work, which improves when
he warms up.
Reluctance and/or resistance to perform maneuvers that previously
came easily for him, such as stops and collection. He may raise
his head and hollow his back.



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