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Research on Equine Joint DiseaseBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · May 10, 2017

Usually when we hear the phrase “precious cargo,” images of foals nestled deep in the mare’s womb pop to mind. But perhaps the most precious cargo should be considered cartilage: the delicate tissues lining the ends of longs bones throughout the horse’s body. Without cartilage, horses suffer joint pain, swelling, and decreased athleticism. In fact, joint disease remains one of the leading causes of attrition and loss of life, facts that should not be taken lightly.

Joint disease, also called osteoarthritis (OA), has no cure. Various treatment options exist, but those strategies simply decrease the discomfort a horses experiences and slows progression of disease. Further, OA can be surprisingly challenging to identify, particularly if it occurs in young horses that “shouldn’t have” OA.

Although widely construed as an old-horse disease, many young horses suffer joint trauma that can instigate the cascade of events leading to crippling OA.

According to a recent study*, OA observed in older horses actually appears to start in young horses early in life, often during training. Specifically, repeated episodes of joint inflammation results in increased cartilage degradation but a decreased rate of cartilage repair as a horse ages.

“This data opens the door to revisit the concept of prophylactic joint supplementation,” suggested Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Providing certain joint supplements to young horses prior to any evidence of joint disease protects joints against future trauma, minimizing the onset of irreversible OA.

KER offers several joint supplements containing ingredients known to prophylactically protect joints, including KER•Flex, with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride; Synovate HA with high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid; and EO•3, a marine-derived source of both DHA and EPA. Australian horse owners should also look for Glucos-A-Flex.

*Kahn, M.K., J.A. Coverdale, J.L. Leatherwood, et al. 2017. Age-related effects on markers of inflammation and cartilage metabolism in response to an intra-articular lipopolysaccharide challenge in horses. Journal of Animal Science. 95(2):671-680.