Everything You Need To Know About Equine Osteoarthritis

While many people assume that it’s only old age that retires horses, equine osteoarthritis is also a contributing factor. A 2010 research shows that 60% of all equine lameness is caused by osteoarthritis. In this article, we want to shed more light on this condition.

What is Equine Osteoarthritis?

Commonly known as OA, this is a chronic degenerative disorder that causes wearing of joints leading to pain, stiffness, and even lameness in horses. In physiological terms, it is the breakdown of the cartilage of synovial joints.

Research shows that equine OA can start in the synovial membrane, subchondral bone, fibrous joint capsule/ ligaments, and the articular cartilage. Please note that equine osteoarthritis can affect both performance and leisure horses regardless of age. This is contrary to the belief that osteoarthritis is a condition for aging horses.

In many of the cases, it’s the leg joints that are affected. A horse will always feel the pressure on their hock, pastern, fetlock, coffin, knee, and stifles. Besides the joints, equine osteoarthritis can also affect the neck and back.

What Causes Equine Osteoarthritis?

When it comes to causes, osteoarthritis may be caused by a single traumatic event. But the common cause is often repetitive injuries or and mechanical strains. Old age is also a contributing factor just like in us humans.

How to Diagnose Equine Osteoarthritis

The important thing in equine osteoarthritis diagnosis is early detection. Be on the lookout for signs like stiffness before the horse warms up, swelling and lameness can make you realize that your horse has OA at a late stage.

Equine veterinarians will diagnose this condition at the early stages by carrying out an equine lameness exam, anesthetic blocks, and flexion testing. Remember also not to assume that your horse has OA since there are other conditions with similar signs to OA.

Equine Osteoarthritis Treatment

There is no particular treatment for OA, but by use of drugs, the lameness can be managed and prevent the condition from getting worse.

There are three common methods to manage OA. The first one is using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are administered orally daily. The second method is the use of injections. The injection ingredients constitute polysulfated-based active or hyaluronic acid. The third method is intra-articular therapy. This method is used to treat severe joint conditions. And it is essential to be sure of joint infection before administering the intra-articular treatment.


Remember, any horse can have osteoarthritis – it’s not a matter of age only. Always consult a veterinarian for detailed examination in case your horse shows signs of strain and pain. Once a diagnosis is made, give the horse the right treatment to manage the equine osteoarthritis.