Supplements for Senior Horse Joint Health

Can supplements improve a senior horse’s joint health once he has started showing signs of stiffness? One expert weighs in.
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Boy with senior lesson horse
Joint supplements likely have the most benefit before your horse starts showing signs of joint disease. | iStock

Q. My retired senior horse often seems stiff, especially when he’s been in his stall for any length of time. Is there a supplement I can give him to ease stiffness in a senior horse’s joints?

A. Omega-3 fatty acids in your senior horse’s diet can be very beneficial for their joints, so that would be things like fish oil or flax oil. Fish oils are the best animal source of omega-3 fatty acids, while flax oil is the best plant source. Both have been shown in several research studies to help with stiffness and lameness in horses. The avocado extracts have been shown also to help with that, so I’m a big fan of omega-3 fatty acids to help with inflammation and lameness.

A glucosamine chondroitin supplement can also be beneficial for stiff senior horses. Supplements with higher amounts of hyaluronic acid in them can also help with joint lubrication. I would recommend joint supplements with these components for senior horses with stiff joints as a first line of defense.

Once the horse has started showing signs of stiffness or lameness, it might be too late for a supplement to make a dramatic difference. However, synovitis (inflammation of the joint capsule) can occur without the horse having osteoarthritis, which would affect the bone itself and where the ligaments and tendons insert. Horses with synovitis are more likely to respond to Omega-3s and other supplements, but changes in bone are harder to manage nutritionally.

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Bryan Waldridge, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, ACVIM, is a veterinarian at Park Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky. He also serves as veterinarian at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm, where he cares for an aging equine population. He received his veterinary degree from Auburn University, and upon graduation became a faculty member teaching large animal internal medicine at Tuskegee University and Auburn University. He then worked for Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, as an internal medicine clinician. Waldridge also served as a resident veterinarian for Kentucky Equine Research, where he was responsible for herd health of research horses and overseeing nutritional research and new product development. He was also the treating veterinarian at the equine quarantine facility for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Most recently Waldridge worked for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, where he was the treating veterinarian and worked the 2015 Breeders’ Cup at Lexington’s Keeneland Race Course. Waldridge has a special interest in internal medicine and clinical pathology. He and his wife, Sonja reside in Georgetown, Kentucky.

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