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Joint Deterioration in the Older Horse

“I have a 19 year old thoroughbred gelding. He is 17.3 and has just been diagnosed with arthritis and fairly severe joint deterioration. I have had a hard time finding information on the best way to treat him. I would like to keep riding him if that’s possible. I do dressage with him. How would you suggest treating him? I want to keep him out of pain as much as possible. I also am on a fairly tight budget which makes treatment even harder.” – HG

Dear HG,

I would love for you to be able keep riding your horse—in fact, daily exercise is one of the best things for him! Just make sure you limit lunging and other repetitive activities and use nice, long warm-ups and cool-downs. If you’re working at the upper levels, consider bringing him down to a level where there’s less collection, torque and hard work. Because keeping joints moving will help, try to turn him out as much as possible and avoid excessive stall time if you can. Other management tips include: keeping him at his ideal weight so he’s not carrying extra pounds and asking your farrier if special trimming or shoeing techniques, such as rocker toes for easier breakover, may be helpful.

When it comes to actually treating arthritis, there are quite a few options. They vary in price, convenience and effectiveness; often a combined approach works best. But every horse responds differently. I recommend working closely with your veterinarian to develop the best plan for your horse then keeping a journal of what you’ve tried, what it cost, and how well it worked.

I’ve lumped therapies into the following categories and provided examples of each:

Prescription products:
•Injectables: (Legend, Adequan, steroids)
•Oral: (phenylbutazone, Banamine, Equioxx)
•Topical: (Surpass)

•Oral joint products: (glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, MSM)

•Other oral products for discomfort, anti-oxidant protection, etc. (omega-3 fatty acids, cetyl myristoleate, devil’s claw, yucca, boswellia)

Other treatment choices you may want to talk to your veterinarian about include acupuncture, shock wave therapy, passive range of motion exercises and magnetic therapy. I’m confident you will find a plan that works for both you and your horse!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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Posted in Ask the Vet, Diseases and Conditions, Lameness

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25 comments on “Joint Deterioration in the Older Horse
  1. Danielle says:

    I have found that 1/2 cup of Apple cider vinegar, not the flavored stuff the actual apple cider, every other day works wonders on my arthritic horses! Hope this helps

  2. Karrie says:

    My horse has arthritis & possible bone spurs. I was suggested Total Joint Care ($70/month) and it has produced AMAZING results, almost instantly. He moves so much more forward and overall a happier horse now too. I plan on putting all future horses (older and/or heavily active) on TJC because of the great results I’ve seen.

  3. nina says:

    I have a 17 year old who has ring bone, bone spurs and severe arthritis. In the winter months, when his discomfort is more severe and excersize is minimal, I put him on SmartFlex Rehab. Works fantastic!!
    And in the spring/summer he is back on SmartFlex Senior, since we do more work.
    Keeping him at his ideal weight has actually helped a lot, along with regular turnout.
    He was also on Previcoxx, it’s somewhat expensive, but a bottle will last 3 months. You might want to look into this as well. But definitaly try the Rehab(it’s $60 a month). Well worth the price.

  4. Pamela Carr says:

    Tildren has worked wonders for my 14 year old Thoroughbred. He acts 5 years younger, and his arthritis is significantly improved. I also give him monthly Adequan injections. I know it is expensive, but it is much cheaper over the long run.

    • Suzanne says:

      Tildren worked wonders on my horse….much more dramatic improvement than injections (including joint injections)

  5. beth says:

    I use a combo of a monthly dose of adequn and Causiquin asu.
    On my 22 year old t/b mare. I love this stuff she acts like she is 10! She has had some pretty bad joint injuries in her past and this combination has seemed to work pretty well!

  6. Jessica DeClerck says:

    I have an 18 yo TB hunter with arthritis in his jocks and some old suspensory injuries. The mud this winter made him so much worse. I had switched him from daily Bute to SmartFlex Senior over the summer and he did well. Due to increased discomfort, I switched him to SmartFlex Rehab and noticed a difference after 1 week. I haven’t jumped him since October but I am hoping to do crossrails soon. He still loves to jump and has a sassy attitude.

  7. chery fay says:

    Hello ,I have some horse stuff that would help your horse it is stemtect.

  8. Jennifer Cook says:

    After a long bout with joint pain, which went misdiagnosed, I put my horse on MSM. I was tempted to put him on the fanciest stuff out there, but restrained myself. So far, the cheap MSM has been doing wonders for him, he’s 100% sound and we’re jumping. I also give him Smart Black and Handsome, which has Omega 3 oil for his joints.

  9. Dena says:

    Previcox is the dog version of Equioxx. It is MUCH cheaper and has been an answer for me for the exact problem you describe. We gave a loading dose of 168mg for 2 days filled by 57 mg daily.

  10. Christi Foster says:

    Beth, please tell me which suppliments (ingredients) you where using? This is troubling for those of us who use joint suppliments as PEOPLE as well. I have heard good things before regarding horses, but nothing like this. Thank you.

    • Amanda says:

      The issue with Glucosamine in a feed-through/oral is that the molecule for Glucosamine is larger than what an Equine stomach can absorb, so by the time it’s broken down to an absorbable size the structure is totally different an no longer beneficial.

      • SmartPak SmartPak says:

        Hi Amanda,

        Thank you for your post. Thanks for giving us a great opportunity to set the record straight on some commonly held misconceptions! We would recommend that you take a look at our blog The Absorption of Joint Supplement Ingredients where our veterinarian Dr. Gray discusses this topic at length. Please let us know if you have any questions!

      • Suzanne says:

        I found Equithrive was the only feed thru supplement that caused a noticeable improvement in my horse

  11. Amanda says:

    I have a 12 y/o 17.0hh TB that I too do dressage with, and he never saw a track (thank goodness!) I started him on 1/4 a tablet of Previcox (yes, the labeled kind for canines) and within 24hours I noticed a HUGE difference in him. He’s had quite a few injuries (he’s a giant goober), and the Previcox also has helped his injections last a little longer. He’s also on a good magnesium supplement, and for the first time ever I haven’t had to have him on MSM and we don’t bute any longer. It costs about $0.60/day to feed. Yes, it’s an off-label use, and is essentially the equivalent of Equioxx.

  12. Mishy says:

    Glucosomine shots worked great for my 20 year old. She was kicking out and now is happy and moving better than ever. For me its $100 a bottle but the bottle has lasted me 4-5 months (I give it every week in the winter/cold and every other in the summer)

  13. Gunda S. says:

    I put our 24 year old mare on a supplyment which contains Green lipped mussels and in times, where it was bad………Taumeel. The other think is, if you can, put him in a run in shed, a stall is not good for him. He need to be able to move around so much as possible

  14. Suzanne says:

    I don’t see Tildren mentioned. While oral supplements and joint injections had some help for my horse, the greatest result I saw by far was when I put him on once per year Tildren treatments from m vet. It transformed my guy and he is 18 now and a different horse…

  15. Lu says:

    I give all my show horses supplements. It insures I win in the show ring

  16. Amy says:

    My 22 year old 17.2 hand Belgian warmblood had a HUGE improvement on Cosequin ASU. He looks 10 years younger and stopped coming out stiff. He also is on Adequan but I did not see similar results with that. Previcox also made a HUGE difference he gets 57mg a day. I buy the 60 count 227mg. size and cut the pills in quarters. It is much cheaper and ends up costing me $145.00 for 8 months of medication.

  17. Holly Williamson says:

    Time to say good-bye. My 20yo Appendix Quarter will be put down 9/18/13.
    “I can’t believe you’re really gone now
    Seems like it’s just a dream.
    How can it be that the world will go on
    When something has died within me.

    Leaves will turn, my heart will burn of colors of you.
    Snow will fall, but I will recall your warmth,
    Summer wind breathing in your memory, I will miss you.

    I can’t imagine my life without you, you held a place all your own.
    Just knowing you were beneath the same sky, oh what a joy I have known.

    On rainy days in many ways You’ll water my heart.
    On starry nights I’ll glimpse the light of your smile
    Never far from my heart, You’ll stay with me.

    But there will be a time When I’ll see your face and I will hear your voice,
    And there will come a day when I’ll hold you close.
    No more tears to cry, because we’ll have forever.
    So for now I’ll say good-bye”. (Katy Trocolli).

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Holly, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. As life-long riders ourselves, SmartPakers know just how tough it is to lose a partner you’ve loved and cared for, so please know that our thoughts and condolences are with you. We’ll ask our partners who’ve passed to welcome your horse with a friendly whinny, and show him or her where the very best grass is. Please let us know if you need anything during this tough time. – SmartPaker Sarah

  18. CatPS says:

    If you’re on a tight budget, I’d start with MSM and Previcox (firocoxib) and then cortisone/HA/PRP injections into individual joints as needed. Massage and chiropractic work can also end up being surprisingly cost effective in certain situations with the right practitioner. Oral combo joint supps end up giving less bang for your buck IMO, especially on older dressage horses.

  19. CatPS says:

    If you’re on a tight budget, I’d start with MSM and Previcox (firocoxib) and then cortisone/HA/PRP injections into individual joints as needed. Massage and chiropractic work can also end up being surprisingly cost effective in certain situations with the right practitioner. Oral combo joint supps end up giving less bang for your buck IMO, ispecialolder dressage horses.

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