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Do Joint Supplements Work in Horses?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 28, 2014

An even better question than “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” appears to be “Do joint supplements for horses really work?”

According to the latest study1 published on the topic, the answer is no, but other experts suggest there is far more to the story and that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

“There are several other studies both in live animals and in a laboratory setting that support the use of various joint supplements, leaving some of us optimistic that joint supplements are important,” says Kathleen Crandell, PhD, equine nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

In the recent study by Higler et al., 24 geriatric horses with “stiff joints and lack of joint flexibility” experienced no increase in stride length after three months of supplementation, whereas horses in the control group experienced increased motion in the knees and forelimb ankles. The authors used kinematic gait analysis when performing the study.

Some interesting things also worth noting were that none of the horses was diagnosed with a specific condition (e.g., fracture, osteoarthritis, tendon, or ligament injury, etc.) and the horses included in the study had very mild lameness—only grade 1 out of 5 using the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) lameness scale. Further, researchers noted horses were analyzed first at a walk and then at a trot throughout the study, which may have made the horses lose “their starting stiffness.”

Despite the fact that this study joins the “nay” side of the supplement debate, there are other factors to consider when deciding whether or not to use nutritional supplements, such as:

  • Many studies evaluate proprietary products, and it is well documented that not all nutritional supplements contain either the type or amount of ingredient that is indicated on the product label2, 3;
  • The study in question only looked at one such proprietary product and didn’t note a significant change in only three months of supplementation; and
  • The control group of horses in that study actually did experience a significant difference in various outcome measures compared to baseline.

“The significant changes in gait parameters in the control group may indicate the usefulness of exercise regimens in older horses,” concluded the study authors, which is an important finding of its own accord.

Additional details regarding the pros and cons of equine nutritional joint supplements is available online3, including detailed information on how to select a quality equine nutritional supplement.

Read more: Greasing the Joints, Part One and Part Two.  

1Higler, M.H., H. Brommer, J.J. L’Ami, et al. 2014. The effects of a three-month oral supplementation with a nutraceutical and exercise on the locomotor pattern of aged horses. Equine Veterinary  Journal 46:611–617.

2Oke, S., A. Aghazadeh-Habashi, J.S. Weese, et al. 2006. Evaluation of glucosamine levels in commercial equine oral supplements for joints. Equine Veterinary Journal 38(1):93–95.

3Oke, S.L., and C.W. McIlwraith. 2008. Review of the potential indications and contraindications of oral joint health supplements. AAEP Proceedings. 54:261–267.