Because horses can’t tell us exactly what hurts and how much, detecting and managing their pain levels can be a difficult task.

All of us suffer from aches and pains from time to time, and many of us think this is simply a fact of life and a natural consequence of the aging process. We buck up, march on, and when needed take an over-the-counter pain reliever. So shouldn’t our horses do just the same?

Not according to a wide variety of equine practitioners, surgeons, and specialists, including William W. Muir III, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVA (anesthesia), ACVECC (emergency and critical care), who is currently the chief medical officer for the Animal Medical Center in New York City.

"(According to the Farm Animal Welfare Council), all animals are entitled to five freedoms: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom to express normal behavior; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom from pain, injury, and disease," says Muir. "Studies have shown that chronic pain can modify the nervous system, can become an actual disease, and cause distress."

Simply put, chronic pain can’t be ignored. It leads to suffering and distress and negatively impacts both a horse’s physiology and his mental health.

In this article we’ll look at some sources of chronic pain in horses, common clinical signs, and traditional and alternative means of controlling pain. Pain management in horses, even for mildly painful conditions, is important because in addition to depression and stress, uncontrolled pain can negatively affect appetite, the immune system, and tissue healing,