Last month we talked about using nutrition to create healthy joints in young horses, and maintain healthy joints as horses move into performance work. Nutrition is a pro-active way to keep joints from deteriorating even during heavy work. As horses progress in their athletic careers, though, you may need to use a different set of nutrients to address thinning of the joint fluid or damage to the cartilage while still providing solid nutrition and plenty of antioxidants to prevent any further damage.

Depending on whether your horse is experiencing any changes in their joints, you may need to offer cartilage support in the form of a joint supplement. We’ve listed some factors you might want to keep in mind when deciding what kinds of joint supplements and nutrition to feed your horse.

Supplements for Healthy Joint Fluid
As discussed last month, keeping the joint fluid thick is the first step to maintaining healthy joints. Working horses need access to plenty of naturally occurring antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals being produced from heavy exercise. Consider using blue green algae, Tahitian noni juice, super oxide dismutase, vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract, omega-3 fatty acids, and certain minerals such as sulphur (found in the supplement MSM).

Supplements for Healthy Joint Cartilage
There are three primary components in joint cartilage-glucosamine hydrochloride, chondritin sulphate, and polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAG). Most joint supplements combine glucosamine with chondritin sulphate, and the best ones also include micronutrients and antioxidants (which helps your horse make the best use of the glucosamine and chondritin sulphate). Remember that nutrition is a complex relationship, and no single nutrient functions alone in the body. If you’ve already been feeding your horse a diet high in micronutrients and antioxidants, just add glucosamine. Adequan, an injectable solution, contains only the third element of joint cartilage (PSGAGs), and may be a good option if you don’t think your horse will eat oral supplements or absorb them. Keep in mind, though, that no amount of joint supplements will keep your horse’s joints healthy if you’re not feeding him a high quality diet filled with micronutrients and antioxidants.

Anti-Inflammatory Supplements
If your horse does have arthritis or damage in the joints, you may need to support him with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents like Bute or Banamine, which helps with the pain. Keep in mind, however, that horses can experience long term side effects from prolonged use of these kinds of products. These products do not stop the degradation of the joint or aid in healing. To assist with the healing process, try Yucca or Devil’s Claw, both of which are anti-inflammatory nutrients that can actually slow the deterioration of the joint. Remember that once a joint become damaged it takes a long time to heal. That’s why it is so important to provide your horse with the maximum quality and quantity of nutrients needed to maintain joint health throughout his life.

A Final Note on Bodywork
Amidst all this discussion about nutritional supplements for joint health, don’t forget the bodywork for your horse! This includes chiropractic, Bowen, Equine Touch, Tellington Touch, massage, and acupressure. Bodywork keeps the connective tissues in your horse’s body supple and chiropractic work, specifically, keeps the spine straight. If your horse has tightness or stiffness in the body from sore muscles or a subluxation in the spine, he can put uneven stress on his limbs, causing uneven pressure on the joint. This uneven pressure will eventually cause damage to the joint fluid and cartilage. In these cases, joint supplements and the best nutrition can’t prevent joint damage because you haven’t addressed the cause of the joint damage. That’s why bodywork is so important.

Quick Reference Guide of Supplements

  • Adequan: An injectable solution, contains PSGAGs (a component of joint cartilage), and may be a good option if you don’t think your horse will eat oral supplements or may not absorb them.
  • Antioxidants: These neutralize the free radicals that are produced from heavy exercise, which can thin the joint fluid. Naturally occurring antioxidants include blue green algae, Tahitian noni juice, super oxide dismutase, vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract, omega-3 fatty acids, and certain minerals such as sulphur.
  • Bute and Banamine: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with effects similar to aspirin. They offer pain relief but can have many side effects and interfere with healing.
  • Chondritin Sulphate: This is a single component of joint cartilage. The body can’t effectively use this component by itself, so look for a supplement that combines glucosamine with chondritin sulphate, minerals, and antioxidants.
  • Devil’s Claw: Supports the digestive, urinary, circulatory system and has an anti-inflammatory analgesic, sedative and diuretic action. It is an herb. Devil’s Claw can be fed in combination with yucca in B-L (formerly bute-less) solution, or individually. Devil’s Claw is not as irritating to the horse as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, but if the horse has ulcers it can irritate them, which might be an indication to give yucca by itself.
  • Glucosamine: This is a single component of joint cartilage. The body can’t effectively use this component by itself, so look for a supplement that combines glucosamine with chondritin sulphate, minerals, and antioxidants.
  • Legend: An intravenous injection composed of hyaluronic acid, which will thicken the joint fluid and decrease inflammation in the joint. Legend can be used if your horse is sore after a particularly hard workout or show. Remember, if you have the choice, use excellent nutrition and antioxidants before resorting to joint injections.
  • MSM: This supplement contains high levels of the antioxidant mineral sulphur, which is generally more supportive of muscles and connective tissues than joints. However, sulphur is a component of cartilage and also an antioxidant.
  • Yucca: An herb that contains organic steroidal saponins. A saponin effect allows a cleansing pentration and dispersal of digestive enzymes and the steroidal effect limits inflammation. The feeding of yucca can be against some medication rules in performance situations. Yucca can be fed in combination with Devil’s Claw in B-L (formerly bute-less) solution, or individually.

Contributed By: Madalyn Ward, DVM