Question: Is there a specific equine conformation type that may be more likely
to develop non-infectious degenerative joint disease (DJD)?
Question: Are all horses at risk for DJD?
Conformation can greatly influence the degree of wear and tear that a joint undergoes. Conformational abnormalities alter the forces applied
to a joint and can potentially lead to joint instability, injury, and DJD. The mature equine athlete that is performing well has likely adapted to
whatever conformation issues exist. However, if you are considering purchasing a young, unproven horse, avoiding horses with significant conformational
flaws will increase the likelihood of the chosen horse staying sound. In young foals and growing horses, conformational abnormalities should be addressed
as early as possible through proper nutrition, balanced farriery, adequate training and muscle development, and in some cases, surgical intervention.
Question: With respect to different disciplines, would a cutting horse
All horses are susceptible to joint dysfunction, regardless of breed, age or discipline. Lameness is a major contributor to decreased performance,
diminished value, and shortened careers for a majority of horses. All breeds, ages, and disciplines are susceptible to joint-related lameness.
Veterinarian and equine experts agree that a horse's health and soundness are a result of a team effort. The key team members of owner, trainer, rider,
veterinarian, and farrier share the same long-term goal of improving joint health for soundness and optimum performance.
or reining horse be more susceptible to DJD than a hunter-jumper?
Question: What are the early warning signs of DJD?
Any horse can develop DJD regardless of age, breed or discipline. However, the horse’s discipline may predispose the horse to developing DJD in particular joints.
For example, cutting or reining horses put significant stress on their hocks and stifles, and these can be locations where DJD occurs more frequently; whereas
hunters will frequently experience more front-limb lameness, such as in the coffin or fetlock joints. It is important to understand that DJD can occur within
any joint that consistently experiences wear and tear, known as “use trauma,” and can occur in any performance horse, regardless of discipline.
Question: Does joint damage occur from overwork or old age?
Despite enduring great stress, a horse's joints normally maintain a balance of strength and pliability. However, a horse’s joints are
slowly under destruction through “wear and tear” with limited ability to restore joint tissue back to the normal balanced “wear-and-repair” state.
Detection of subtle behavioral problems that can signal the onset of joint pain, and addressing any instability or injury in the joint early on,
improves your horse's chances of maintaining full mobility. Routine inspection of joints is essential to recognize early signs of joint dysfunction
that can lead to degenerative joint disease. Early signs may include:
- Behavioral changes (reluctance to perform, sour attitude, etc)
- Decline in performance
- Inflammation of the joint and surrounding soft tissue (heat, swelling, pain)
- Excess fluid or swelling in or around the joint
- Any change in gait or subtle alteration in stride
- Decreased range of motion
Question: When should I call a veterinarian?
Joint damage can happen from a single misstep or from chronic overuse throughout a horse’s athletic career.
Proper equine joint function requires a complex and harmonious system of tissues that provide strength, stability and protection while
affording a broad range of movement and flexibility. When in a balanced state, healthy joints provide an efficient mechanism to restore
aged cells and stimulate repair in order to achieve minimal loss to essential joint cartilage. However, this ongoing joint
“wear-and-repair” cycle can become overwhelmed even in the fittest of horses and insufficient when joints are injured (sprains, fractures, etc.),
overloaded from training, excessive use, weak conformation, or imbalanced feet.
Question: What are the benefits of using FDA approved products to treat my horse?
Early recognition and treatment of joint-related lameness can minimize joint damage before permanent cartilage or bone injury occurs.
If your horse has heat, pain, swelling, a stiff or swollen joint, or decreased performance, contact your equine veterinarian for a
comprehensive examination and appropriate diagnosis. Discuss available treatment options with your veterinarian and determine which
option is appropriate for your horse’s particular situation.
Question: How can I tell if a product is FDA Approved?
FDA-approved products have been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy through required clinical studies.
It should always be preferable to use FDA-approved products over other products circulating in the equine marketplace,
such as compounded medications, medical devices, and supplements which are not required to demonstrate safety or
efficacy, are not routinely monitored, and are not regulated with the same level of scrutiny.
Question: What is the relationship between osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease (DJD)?
Some veterinary medical devices may appear to be similar to pharmaceuticals. Only FDA approved products are given a 6 digit New Animal
Drug Application (NADA) or Abbreviated New Animal Drug Application (-ANADA for generics). This 6 digit number appears on the label
of FDA approved products. As an example, see the NADA number highlighted on the vial shown on the right.
As pliable cartilage is thinned and lost and the underlying bone becomes damaged, significant pain and lameness, joint swelling, and stiffness can occur.
With ongoing recurrent insult, the bone attempts to adapt and remodel, which can result in the presence of visible changes to bone on radiographs.
If the bone surface continues to absorb excessive concussion due to loss of healthy cartilage, this results in additional pain and inflammation
within the joint, and further changes to bone. The progressive, cyclical process eventually results in irreversible degradative changes in
cartilage and bone, termed Osteoarthritis or “OA,” which is the “end-stage” progression of Degenerative Joint Disease.1
1. McIlwraith CW. Traumatic arthritic and posttraumatic osteoarthritis in the horse. In: McIlwraith CW,
Frisbie DD, Kawcak CE, van Weeren PR, eds. Joint Disease in the Horse. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, 2016;33-48.