Cold Weather Challenges for Horses With Osteoarthritis
In many regions, winter means a difficult few months for owner managing horses, but it brings its own set of challenges to horses with osteoarthritis (OA). Plunging temperatures, deep snow, and freezing rain are difficult enough for humans and horses to deal with, but did you know that even a change in barometric pressure can trigger joint discomfort?

When a horse suffers from OA, the cartilage, bone and soft tissues in the joint deteriorate. These changes cause pain, deformity, loss of motion, and decreased function.

Hoyt Cheramie, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, senior equine professional service veterinarian for Boehringer Ingelheim, points to these clinical signs to watch out for:

  • Decreased activity or mobility;
  • Stiffness or decreased joint movement;
  • Heat;
  • Swelling;
  • Pain; and
  • Lameness.

There is no cure for OA, but clinical signs can be managed.

“Our aim is to control the progression of the disease by focusing on alleviating joint pain and inflammation, which allows the horse to maintain or increase mobility,” Cheramie says.

With that in mind, he urges owners to continue exercising their horses during winter. By continuing with a training routine, it allows the joints to stay supple and moving.

“The more horses have a chance to stay fit, the better it is for their overall joint health,” Cheramie says. “However, it is especially important for OA sufferers to have a warm-up and cool-down regimen before and after work, and that the work is not excessive.”

Cheramie recommends slow, easy stretching movements before training to help loosen muscles and get the circulation going in stiff joints. Also, allow time afterwards for winding-down so the horse can relax and not lose too much body heat all at once. This also helps keep muscles loose.

Horse owners should consider the following cold weather management tips:

  • Take caution when riding in deep, heavy, or wet snow, as this could result in tendon injuries;
  • If horses are exercised enough to generate sweat, keep horses clipped to help them cool down faster;
  • Horses that are clipped or don’t have a thick hair coat need to be blanketed appropriately;
  • If you can’t riding, make an effort to turn horses out as often as possible; and
  • If horses are stabled, be sure to provide ample bedding for warmth and to cushion elbows, hocks; and other sensitive areas when lying down.

When OA-associated pain and inflammation flare-ups occur, contact your veterinarian to discuss a management plan.

Blocking OA Pain and Inflammation

One option owners might want to discuss with their veterinarian is administering a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to relieve pain. There are many to choose from, but doing a little research into active ingredients, use in competitive situations and convenience in dosing can help make the choice easier.

Consider firocoxib the first and only U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved coxib NSAID for horses. Firocoxib inhibits the inflammation-producing enzymes (cyclooxygenase-2) associated with inflammatory processes while sparing the enzyme (cyclooxygenase-1) that safeguards a number of normal body functions, including stomach protection.

Another pain management option veterinarians might consider is diclofenac sodium, a topical NSAID that provides pain relief directly at the inflammation site. An FDA-approved topical product is available for use in controlling pain and inflammation associated with OA in hock, knee, fetlock, and pastern joints in horses.

Work with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan that will help your horse feel his best in any type of weather.