Degenerative Joint Disease

How can degenerative joint disease occur in horses?

Degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis, can cause lameness, stiffness, joint swelling, and changes in behavior in sport horses. Years of training and working affecting the horse’s joints, hoof imbalance, fractures, poor nutrition, overweight body condition, conformation challenges, and abnormal formation of cartilage are a few factors that can lead to degenerative joint disease. 

Degenerative joint disease occurs when there is instability in a joint or due to injury in the horse, which causes inflammation of the synovial membrane, referred to as synovitis, and deterioration of cartilage. In the synovial membrane, inflammatory cells and fluid cause the release of catabolic enzymes and increase hydrostatic pressure in the horse’s joint. 

As a result, increased pressure causes a build up of fluid in the joint, which stretches the joint area and causes the horse to experience pain. The release of catabolic enzymes into the joint break down the lubrication found in the joint, known as hyaluronan, and cartilage. Over time, the breakdown of cartilage causes the joint to become unstable and inflammation to persist. 

Carpus (knees), hocks, and fetlocks, where there is a great extent of joint movement for the horse, are common areas where degenerative joint disease can be found. An array of treatments including intra-articular injections and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications as well as stable management and a tailored work plan can help slow the progression of degenerative joint disease, keep your horse comfortable, and help your horse perform at its best. 

Consult with one of the veterinarians at Atlantic Equine Services for more information or to schedule an evaluation.

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