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Equine Osteoarthritis Overview for Owners

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Osteoarthritis (OA) is an extremely common joint condition. Primary OA develops from issues such as dysplasia, whereas secondary OA develops after circumstances stimulating joint destabilisation, injury or overload.

It is a degenerative disease so is more prevalent in older animals, although it occurs within the younger population, it is more commonly diagnosed in elderly patients due to the advanced stage progression evoking more obvious clinical signs. Working animals also have an increased risk due to repetitive loading and chronic fatigue injuries. Additionally larger breeds and neutered animals are more susceptible due to the increased load on joint, with male and neutered animals possibly influenced by gonadal hormones or lack of which may cause weight gain.

OA is caused by the destruction of cartilage within the joint exceeding the rate of which it can repair, causing further destruction of the joint and eventually leading to bones grinding. There is inflammation of the joint which initiates many processes in the body which may also contribute to the disease progression.

Radiographic changes to the joint can be seen on X-rays or CT scans for diagnosis by the vet. The animal will also display numerous clinical signs such as limping, stiffness and behavioural changes such as reduced activity. It is common in dogs for example for them to be reluctant to jump on the sofa or climb stairs. With horses, OA is often associated with reduced performance.

Due to the long-term and degenerative nature of the disease, treatment goals are to delay progression whilst providing pain management, reducing joint instability and restoring function, often with a multimodal approach. Painkillers are most commonly prescribed to reduce the associated pain and inflammation. Physiotherapy can also really benefit the patient in many ways with electrotherapies such as laser and PEME, manual therapies including massage and stretching and remedial exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the joint. Alternative treatments can also be platelet rich plasma injections, arthroscopy and mesenchymal stem cells. Weight management is also vital in OA cases as reducing the load on joints can be equivalent to a dose of painkillers.

Here are a few links to some further reading

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