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What is Osteoarthritis

Updated: May 4, 2021

What is Osteoarthritis? “Your horse has arthritic changes in (insert joint here).”

What now? First, let’s talk about what those arthritic changes are and what they can ultimately mean. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease that impacts almost every horse at some point in their life. When you have a horse who happens to be highly active or intensely competitive in their discipline, you can almost guarantee that you’ll come across this at some point. Additionally, if you have an older horse, the chance is pretty good that they have arthritis somewhere in their body. OA is a pretty broad term, so lets break it down a bit. Dr. Wayne McIlwraith at Colorado State University describes the four phases of OA as follows: Stage 1: Inflammation of the synovium (the internal lining of the joint) starts and does not appear as changes to the cartilage structure at this point. Stage 2: Continued synovitis (inflammation of the synovium) that can contribute to cartilage damage. Stage 3: Synovitis is considered chronic at this stage and cartilage damage is severe. Stage 4: Chronic synovitis leads to full thickness loss of cartilage at this point. Deep breath. Unfortunately, there is no curing OA in any species. In some cases, it can be treated symptomatically and managed over their career and lifetime. These are broken down into two classifications: symptom-modification OA drugs (SMOADs) or disease-modification OA drugs (DMOADs). SMOADs treat clinical symptoms such as lameness. However, they do not impact that progression of the disease. This is where DMOADs come into play, where they can slow or modify the progression of OA inside the affected joint. In an ideal world, veterinarians would like to see both symptom and disease modification. There are ways to potentially prevent long term implications of OA, like staying on top of things such as osteochondritis dissecans (OCDs), articular fractures, and bone chips. Using resources such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), injections, or regenerative medicine can provide some relief. Dr. McIlwraith notes that self-diagnosis and prescription of oral joint supplements are usually benign, but when the veterinarian only sees the horse when athletic performance is decreased it can distort the overall picture of lameness. As always, if you have a health concern regarding your horse, contact your veterinarian and have a discussion. It’s best to consult the advice of a professional and stay on top of your horse’s health. Wondering what products in joint supplements are most effective? We’ve got you covered in our next article. Be on the lookout later this week! Want to read the full article this piece was written from? Check it out on

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