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THE ARTHRITIC HORSE

The pain and stiffness associated with arthritis affect horses in the same way that they affect humans. Fortunately, the percentage in animals is not as high as with humans. A recent study sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health showed that approximately 20% of adult horses might be affected by arthritis.

Regular massage combined with gentle stretching exercises, some hydrotherapy modalities and exercises make a comprehensive holistic home-care program to keep your arthritic horse as healthy, happy and pain free as possible on a daily basis.

Exercise your animal regularly to keep his musculoskeletal system fit and to maintain flexibility and range of motion. It is recommended to do several small exercise sessions throughout the day so your horse enjoys it. Avoid longer sessions where the animal get stiff and ache all over afterwards. It would cause him to develop a lot of muscular tension as he will automatically compensate in order to avoid the painful joint sensation.

Some of the early symptoms of arthritis shown by your animal will include:

  • General stiffness in the morning trying to get up and walk out of his stall. This stiffness will be subsiding as the animal goes on.
  • General stiffness in the evening, especially when trying to get down
  • A decrease in their overall activity level, difficulty going up and down hills or when loading in and out of a trailer.
  • Not wanting to be touched or handled as much, including being a bit grouchy or aggressive when being touched over the arthritic areas.

More pronounced symptoms might include:

  • Marked stiffness or lameness when walking, trotting or cantering.
  • Some degree of pain, heat and possibly swelling around the affected joint(s).
  • Painful signs on his face when putting weight on an affected leg or when touched there.

Keep in mind that these symptoms can also be due to another problem known as Lyme disease. When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis. By taking x-rays and performing appropriate blood tests he will be able to confirm the diagnosis of arthritis.

Medications and Supplements
The classical medications used in western medicine for the treatment of arthritis include aspirin, cortisone or other non-steroid medications such as carprofen (aka rimadyl tm). They will relieve most of the pain and inflammation, but while cause some long-term deterioration of the joints worse as well as causing other serious potential side effects.

Possibly, surgery might be considered with severe condition such as localized bone spurs. These procedures have a good chance of success with minimal side effects.

More and more people choose to use nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to help control pain, improve joint mobility and improve the damage to the cartilage resulting from the arthritis. Vitamins A, C, and E and the mineral Selenium are also beneficial to the animal affected by arthritis. Consult with your veterinarian for proper dosage to best suit your animal. Antioxidants such as Bioflavonoids are also beneficial as they control free radicals associated with cartilage damage.

Herbal supplements that are beneficial for arthritis include yucca, devils claw and alfalfa just to list a few. You might want to contact a master herbalist for more specific details. Also, some Chinese herbal formulas are very potent to help the arthritic animal.

How to Massage an Arthritic Horse
Common in geriatric horses, arthritis mostly affect the hips, lower spine, stifle, hock and knees, pasterns and to a lesser degree the shoulder and elbow. Massage won't cure arthritis, but regular applications contribute to slowing down the degenerative process of such a condition. Massage secures the following benefits:

  • Massage relieves some of the pain by relaxing the tight adjacent muscles, tendons and ligaments
  • Regular massages will break the “pain‑tension‑more pain” cycle
  • Massage relieves the compensatory muscular tension found in supporting limbs.

Your massage should last 20 to 35 minutes depending on the size of your horse. It is better to repeat several massage sessions and see consistent progressive results than taking the risk of over working a body part and flaring up the inflammatory process often present with arthritis.

For the arthritic horse, it is very beneficial to massage early in the morning and again in the evening:

  • The morning massage will erase the stiffness and soreness from the night’s inactivity.
  • The evening session will relieve the muscle tension and soreness buildup resulting from the activities of the day.

Start by lightly stroking the area you are about to massage. Follow with several light effleurages to get the circulation going. Next, use very light kneading over the tight muscles, as well as some very light hand-friction to loosen the fibers and stimulate deeper circulation. Intersperse with effleurages regularly, every 10 seconds on average, to assist drainage. Do not work directly over the joints afflicted with arthritis.

Chinese massage suggests kneading the outside of the elbow and just above and in front of the hoof on the hind leg to promote good general metabolism and fight off arthritis.

Daily massages are beneficial and gives you another great chance to bond with your animal through the magic of touch!

When you horse experience inflammation in a joint, wrap a cold wet towel around it or consider applying the ice-cup massage technique (video #008). It will sooth and lower the inflammatory process. The “laying-on” of hands is also very good to alleviate pain in a sore joint (video #003).

Consider applying gentle stretching exercises (video #007).  Either during or at the end of your massage to maximize the flexibility of the tissue and joints you are working on. When done, gently stroke the entire body of your horse to give a general feel of relaxation.

Exercise in moderation is excellent for any arthritic condition. So, follow your morning massage session with a mild exercise period such as walking or light trotting but avoid strenuous workout.

In addition, acupuncture, and chiropractic can be very beneficial for arthritic horses, not only in relieving pain but also in increasing circulation to the muscles and joints and improving overall health.

This comprehensive holistic approach usually works well in keeping your animal healthy and comfortable! However, always consult your practicing veterinarian before starting any of the modalities listed above. 

I hope you enjoyed this article and found the information useful.  My goal is help you provide quality home care for the benefit of your animal.

Please visit our FREE library. Our many articles address important aspects of animal wellness and fitness. Take the time to scroll through our free library to find out how you can actively contribute to your horse’s wellness.

Animal Awareness also offers a large video library with over a 100 mini-videos that will show you how to easily perform the various massage and stretching techniques talked about in this article, and more. These videos offer you the correct start and visual guidance. With this knowledge, you will be able to develop a good home care program for the benefit of your animal friend.  He will love you for it.

Enjoy your new Awareness!

Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt, LMT

The “Recuperation Massage Routine" (EV017) and / or the are strongly recommended to assist the aging horse in his “Trouble Spot Massage Routine" (EV018) daily routine. The use of various “Hydrotherapy Modalities” (EV008) will also maximize the benefit of your home-care program.

If you are just starting with your home-care program, consider our “Introduction to Animal Massage” package,a 20% discount value on the first 7 DVDs, to secure a sound foundation in your equine massage skills. Then take advantage of our other packages to increase your knowledge of home-care protocols for the benefit of your horse(s).