There are 205 bones in the horse’s skeleton, each of which is linked to the next using a joint that when worked incorrectly or injured can be become damaged and develop osteoathritis. The majority of horses with arthritis show lameness problems in the leg, where there are 80 bones split between the horse’s four legs, and because these are some of the most active joints in the body they are more prone to wear, tear and injury.
There are several ways to help reduce the chances of joint damage including working on suitable surfaces, ensuring hooves are correctly balanced (and ideally unshod) and a quality diet including balanced vitamins and minerals. Limb conformation is also a factor as this affects the way in which the horse lands on its hoof and therefore may increase concussion within the joints. Arthritis within other joints, e.g. neck, spine and hips, is also seen with differing frequencies, but the main contributing factors remain the same; injury, over work and poor nutrition.
There have been few scientific studies that have shown major benefits of feeding joint supplements, and there is some doubt as to whether the active ingredients within the supplements are absorbed into the body through the gut effectively. The anecdotal evidence from horse owners, however, is generally positive although as with all supplements what works for one, doesn't always work for another. The active ingredients within the common joint supplements include chondroitin sulphate, Glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, MSM, turmeric/curcumin and various herbs.
Chondroitin sulphate and Glucosamine are often supplemented together and there is some evidence that these may act to reduce joint inflammation and improve mobility. In some joint supplements, the chondroitin and Glucosamine are combined with MSM and hyaluronic acid e.g NAF Superflex. ASU has also recently been added to Equine America Cortaflex, which acts to block inflammatory mediators thus preventing degradation of the cartilage cells. The biggest break through, however, appears to come in the form of Animalife Vetroflex, which is an advanced nutritional formulation that contains a proprietary peptide blend of hydrolysed collagen, which may support the regeneration of cartilage. The results people appear to be having with this product are amazing with many owners reporting a complete chance in their horses.
Devils Claw is one of the more popular herbal remedies and research indicates that this works by blocking the pathways that cause joint inflammation, whilst additionally reducing the pain response. The main issue with devils claw, however, are the side effects. More recently, the use of Boswellia serrata or Frankincense has increased. Studies in humans have shown a reduction of pain and an increase in mobility, which is also being reported by customers who have tried this herbal remedy on their arthritic equines. Found in products such as Global Herbs Alphabute and Naturebute, this herb is a suitable alternative to continued use of Devils Claw, especially in horses prone to gastric ulcers. No report on joint supplements would be complete without mentioning turmeric, a member of the ginger family, and its active ingredient, curcumin. Curcumin has been the main ingredient of Net Tex Substibute for a long time, but the use of Turmeric, oil and black pepper has shown to be very useful in all manner of conditions including joint pain management.
(photo courtesy of AtlantaEquine Clinic)