It has been demonstrated that osteoarthritis is responsible for 60% of lameness in performance and pleasure horses. While exercise can strengthen a horse’s bones, muscles and tendons, it also puts the joints under tremendous strain. With every fence, ditch, or increased year of age, the cartilage and synovial fluid that cushions the joint is broken down.
Inflammation in the joint, sometimes as a result of injury, releases chemicals that break down the cartilage. Osteoarthritis, or Degenerative Joint Disease, occurs when the normal rebuilding of these materials in the joint is exceeded by cartilage degradation. This leads to friction between the bones, stimulating the growth of new bone. The end result is a painful, stiff, swollen joint.
A hot, swollen joint is the culmination of a slow, degenerative process that can be diagnosed well before severe damage occurs. There are symptoms that you can spot, so that you are able to seek veterinary help and begin the suitable treatment. However, Lesley Bott, owner of Holisitc Horse Health, believes that, “joint problems in horses are the same as those in humans; sometimes we know that it’s because of an injury, but sometimes we have no idea. It’s not a bad idea to put a horse on joint care supplements even without the signs of arthritis.” The difference is that humans can complain, whereas horses cannot. It is essential that you are able to spot the signs of joint problems before it’s too late.
• Your horse is lying down more than usual
• Your horse is less active
• You have noticed slow, stiff movements either after exercise or in cold conditions
• These stiff movements disappear with exercise
• Your horse has difficulty getting up from a lying position
• Your horse has developed an abnormal gait or is moving unusually
• You have noted a change in behaviour or temperament
• Your horse has a decreased appetite
• Your horse has lost muscle mass
• The joints are swollen and hot to the touch.
The most vulnerable joints are the knee (a), fetlock (b), coffin (c), pastern (d) and hock (e). The spine and neck are less likely to be affected by osteoarthritis.
The healthy horse joint contains enough cartilage and synovial fluid to form an almost frictionless joint. Glycosaminoglycan, proteoglycan and chondrocytes are involved in cartilage formation, whilst sodium hyaluronate increases the viscosity of the synovial fluid to improve the quality of lubrication between the two bones. It is worth noting at this point that, once osteoarthritis has begun, there is no medication that can reverse the breakdown of the cartilage and synovial fluid. However, there are substances which can slow down the degenerative process.
Glucosamine – an amino sugar which is found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and other arthropods. Since glucosamine is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans, and glycosaminoglycans are a major component of joint cartilage, it is used in many horse joint supplements.
Chondroitin Sulphate – naturally present in healthy cartilage, this chain of alternating sugars is usually found attached to proteins as part of a proteoglycan. Loss of chondroitin sulphate from the cartilage is a major cause of osteoarthritis.
Other substances to consider are Cetyl Myristoleate, Avacado Unsapanifiables (ASU), Vitamin C, Manganese, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Hydrolysed Collagen, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and herbs such as Devil’s Claw and Rosehip. A vet may also prescribe pain medication such as NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).
When shopping for a horse joint supplement, it is vital that you know exactly what your horse needs. Lesley Bott warns buyers to “watch out for bulk fillers such as limestone flour, alfalfa and dextrose. The important thing is how much active ingredient the product contains, and what purity the ingredients are.” Professor Wayne McIlwraith cited a study at the 2006 AAEP Conference (American Association of Equine Practitioners), in which only 14 out of 23 glucosamine supplements contained the amount of glucosamine specified on the label; one of the supplements didn’t contain any glucosamine. McIlwraith proposes ACCLAIM to ensure people get their money’s worth when buying horse joint supplements (AAEP 2008):
A name you recognise
Identification of batch
VioVet recommends a select few products which, in our opinion, satisfy the ACCLAIM criteria.
NAF – Superflex
NAF Superflex contains a scientifically balanced ratio of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM to actively slow down the onset of osteoarthritis. The powerful blend of antioxidants addresses the excess toxins around the affected joint, and the hyaluronic acid is an important component in the synovial fluid. Superflex has a no-bulk filler as well as pure ingredients, making this product excellent value for money. The official supplier to the British Equestrian Teams, NAF offers reliable products, and VioVet is confident in recommending Superflex.
Equine America – Cortaflex
Equine Cortaflex contains micro-sized active isolates of glucosamine and chondroitin to facilitate absorption through the cell walls. This provides the building blocks for cartilage, thus slowing down the degenerative process. Cortaflex is also fortified with hyaluronic acid which increases the viscosity of the synovial fluid. Used by leading riders and trainers across the world in all equine disciplines, Cortaflex is a reliable, reputable product which is suitable both as a preventative and remedial treatment.
Cosequin Equine contains exceptionally pure ingredients including glucosamine HCl (99+%) and chondroitin sulphate (100%). Unlike many horse joint supplements on the market, there are numerous respected scientific papers confirming the supportive qualities of Cosequin Equine. Considered by the European Pharmacopoeia as a reference standard, the chondroitin sulphate in Cosequin Equine is of the highest quality. One comparative study showed that, out of ten different types of chondroitin sulphate, only one approached and none bettered the activity of TRH122 found only in Cosequin.