Equine Joint Therapies: What to Know

There are joint treatments galore, but your vet can help determine which option is best suited for your horse.
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If your horse’s joints are starting to be painful, chances are you have a lot of questions: Will he return to soundness? Should I scratch from the next show? How much time will he need off? Then you do a quick Google search to see what types of treatment your veterinarian might prescribe, and things get even less clear: Will he use a systemic product or a topical one? Intra-articular injections? Or maybe physical therapy? Which option is best?

While navigating equine joint therapy options can be challenging, it’s easier when you have a good understanding of each treatment and how it works. To that end, Laurie Goodrich, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, reviewed some common joint treatments for horses at the 2015 World Equine Veterinary Association Congress, held Oct. 8-10 in Guadalajara, Mexico. Goodrich is an associate professor of surgery and lameness in the Department of Clinical Sciences and the Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, in Fort Collins.

She did not discuss stem cells, platelet-rich plasma, or IRAP (interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein), as she covered these in another lecture. However, veterinarians can use these regenerative modalities, in some cases, to help treat equine joints.

The goals of joint therapy center around removing the inciting cause, reducing inflammation, and getting the best possible outcome for the horse. Goodrich said the ultimate goal is to preserve the internal structures, such as cartilage, which isn’t possible once the horse develops progressive joint disease or severe osteoarthritis. Thus, it’s ideal to intervene when the joint is just inflamed, rather than once it reaches a diseased state

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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