Managing Osteoarthritis During Cold Weather - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Managing Osteoarthritis During Cold Weather

Freezing temperatures, deep snow and slick ice are challenges that horse owners often face during the winter months. For horse owners whose horses suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), these winter elements can make the disease more difficult to manage.

A horse with OA suffers from deterioration of the cartilage, bone and soft tissue in and around their joints. These changes often cause pain, deformity, loss of motion and decreased function. While the carpus, fetlock, hock and stifles are most commonly affected, any joint has the potential to develop OA. Though OA is not curable, there are a few ways to manage the disease.

Tip #1: Be able to recognize the signs of OA

It's impossible to manage something that you don't know is happening. Recognizing the signs of OA is the first step in making sure your horse stays comfortable during the winter months. Sarah Reuss, VMD, DACVIM, Equine Technical Manager, Boehringer Ingelheim, says horse owners can be on the lookout for the following clinical signs of OA:

  • Decreased activity or mobility
  • Joint stiffness or decreased movement in the joint
  • Heat and/or swelling of the joint
  • Pain
  • Lameness

In the winter, these signs may become more obvious due to the changes in temperature that can put more stress on the affected joints.

Tip #2: Keep your horse moving 

Once you've identified the signs of OA and your horse has been diagnosed by a veterinarian, you can begin managing the signs. The easiest way to do this is to simply keep your horse moving.

“A large part in keeping a horse with OA comfortable is ensuring they stay fit and get their joints moving, especially in colder weather,” says Reuss. “It's important to include a proper warm-up and cool-down before and after work, as well as making sure that the work isn't excessive.”

Whether it's turnout, hand walking, groundwork, riding or a combination of the above, sticking to a training program will help loosen up your horse's joints and keep them supple.

Tip #3: Decrease inflammation with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Talk to your veterinarian about using NSAIDs to help reduce overall pain and inflammation. There are many different NSAID options available, but your veterinarian will be able to determine which product will work best for your horse.

Equioxx® (firocoxib) is the first coxib NSAID to be FDA-approved for use in horses. EQUIOXX comes in tablet form that only needs to be given once a day, providing your horse with 24-hour pain relief. EQUIOXX contains firocoxib, which inhibits the inflammation-producing enzymes (Cyclooxygenase-2) while sparing the enzyme (Cyclooxygenase-1) that safeguards several normal body functions, including stomach protection.

Another option is Surpass® (1 percent diclofenac sodium), the only FDA-approved topical NSAID for horses that can be applied directly on the source of inflammation to control pain and inflammation in joints affected by OA.

Tip #4: Maintain general winter best practices

Though horses with OA require special maintenance to keep them comfortable, their normal winter needs should not be overlooked. Like any horse in the winter, they should be turned out as often as safely possible, being conscious of the footing. Riders should also avoid riding in deep, heavy or wet snow in order to prevent tendon injuries.

Unfortunately, OA is not curable, but by following these tips and working with your veterinarian the winter months can be more comfortable for both you and your horse.

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