Everything You Need to Know About Equine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most prevalent type of arthritis in humans and horses, as well. If you are a horse owner, you need to be aware of this degenerative disorder. OA is the cause of more than 60% of equine lameness. Another discovery, OA is not a disorder which affects old horses only, the younger ones are equally affected.

What is Equine OA?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder which causes the wearing of the cartilage tissues. When the bones are exposed, they cause inflammation. Below are five types of equine OA classified by their cause.

  • Equine OA related to synovitis and that occurring in high-motion joints
  • Equine OA related to low-motion joints
  • Equine OA from non-progressive articular cartilage erosion
  • Chondromalacia of the patella
  • OA from secondary causes (injury, repetitive stress, etc.)

As mentioned above, OA is manifested through pain, and there are three types:

  • Nociceptive pain: This is caused when the pain receptors are activated from secondary and abnormal movements
  • Inflammation: This is discomfort caused when the inflammatory mediators are released to the tissues
  • Neuropathic pain: This is caused by damage to specific areas of the nervous system

Besides pain, there are other symptoms of OA in horses, including increased heart rate, glassy eyes, anxious expression, snorting, whinnying, and tail swishing.

How to Diagnose Equine OA

The main symptom of equine OA is pain manifested as lameness. But then, assessing the pain levels is the most crucial aspect of the diagnosis. Here, we recommend the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ lameness scale. Other methods include flexion testing and anaesthetic blocks.

You can also find the exact place where there is pain. This is through radiographs (X rays), which can pinpoint where there are typical OA lesions. This method can be used to determine the type of OA your horse is suffering, whether it is knee osteoarthritis, hock, stifles, or fetlock OA. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for the cartilage to be visible on radiographs when the OA is in its early stages.

Equine Osteoarthritis Management

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disorder with no known cure. However, there are several ways you can manage equine OA, especially if it is an early diagnosis.

Your vet will be the right person to determine which remedy will be the best, depending on the extent of the OA. There are pain relievers, joint injections, oral supplements, and therapies, among other OA management methods.


The mention of equine osteoarthritis draws the picture of an old, slightly swaybacked, wizened, and retired horse which can’t take you for your rides, or competition. Many horses diagnosed with OA early can continue with normal activity. But those with advanced OA can’t promise much. That’s why it’s recommended to consult your vet immediately you discover the symptoms of osteoarthritis in your horse for early diagnosis.

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