What to Know About Equine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that compromises the joint health and mobility of many animals. While osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder for people in the United States, the condition is also prevalent in horses.

Dr. Jeffrey Watkins, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, provides insight into equine osteoarthritis and how owners might manage this condition in their horses.

“Osteoarthritis refers to deterioration of a joint or joints that is characterized by progressive loss of cartilage,” Watkins said. “The inflammation associated with osteoarthritis causes pain and swelling of the affected joints.”

Cases of osteoarthritis can be divided into two groups: primary and secondary.

Primary osteoarthritis arises from the wear and tear of everyday activities, resulting in a slow breakdown of joint cartilage. Performance horses are at particular risk for this form of osteoarthritis.

“Often, the first indication of a problem is a change in the horse’s behavior, willingness to perform, and/or ability to perform at their expected level,” Watkins said. “These are often subtle indications of a developing joint problem and are due to the low-grade pain associated with the insidious onset of osteoarthritis.”

Secondary osteoarthritis comes when an injury to a joint is severe enough to begin the process of cartilage breakdown. Horses with a history of joint infections, fractures involving the joint, ligament and tendon injuries, and preexisting joint defects are at risk for secondary osteoarthritis.

“Osteoarthritis secondary to an injury or infection will be characterized initially by the signs associated with the inciting injury. Once the initial injury has been resolved, osteoarthritis is manifested as continued loss of function due to pain and stiffness of the affected joint,” Watkins said.

If an owner suspects that their horse might be suffering from osteoarthritis, they should contact their veterinarian, who might conduct a physical evaluation and lameness examination, as well as recommend diagnostic imaging such as radiography, ultrasonography, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Prevention of equine osteoarthritis varies depending on the type. For secondary osteoarthritis, prompt and proper treatment of the initial joint injury is vital. Primary osteoarthritis is more complicated, involving many factors including proper hoof care, responsible training regimens, and the monitoring of any predisposing factors.

“Management of osteoarthritis is a multifaceted approach and includes modification of the affected horse’s activity level, attention to body weight and body condition, appropriate hoof care, medical therapy, and surgical therapy,” Watkins said.

As with all conditions, owners concerned for their horse’s health should consult with their veterinarians to establish an individualized management strategy. Luckily, research into osteoarthritis management is ongoing, so we might one day see options for complete rehabilitation.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Hay is for Horses: Maintaining a Proper Equine Diet

Nutrition plays a large role in a horse’s energy level, performance, and overall health. There are many feed and treat options available for horses, but some are more important than others for a complete and healthy diet.Grey horse with grass sticking out of its mouth in front of forest

Dr. Leslie Easterwood, a clinical assistant professor of equine community practice at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, shares her recommendations for a proper equine diet.

“Components of most horse diets are roughly divided into two sections: grain concentrate, either pelleted or whole grain, and roughage, such as hay or fresh grass,” Easterwood said.

She recommends feeding 1 percent of a horse’s body weight as concentrate and 1 to 2 percent as roughage, with adjustments made to suit the horse’s activity level and ideal weight. Proper amounts of high-quality grain and roughage are essential for adequate nutrition and fiber intake and can help avoid health issues like colic.

There are many options for delicious treats for horses, such as carrots, apples, and commercially made treats, but they should only be fed in small quantities.

As with any other pet, there are special considerations for owners when making changes to a horse’s diet.

“The most important factor when considering a diet change is to gradually change from one type of foodstuff to another, allowing the gastrointestinal tract to adjust to the new foodstuff or amount,” Easterwood said.

Horses also can benefit from eating several small meals each day, rather than a few large meals.

“Wild horses are designed to intake small meals throughout the day,” she said. “This keeps their gastrointestinal tracts active and healthy. Meal feeding is not what their systems were designed for, but it is the standard practice for horse owners.”

When assessing the effectiveness of an equine diet, horse owners should watch out for signs of both undernutrition and overnutrition. Luckily, Easterwood said it is usually easy to tell if a horse is gaining or losing weight.

“A poor, dull hair coat can also be an indicator of poor nutrition or parasite infestation,” she said.

Undernutrition, either from too few calories or a lack of certain nutrients, can have obvious consequences on a horse’s weight, energy, and overall health.

Similarly, overnutrition, which can refer to obesity or the excessive intake of specific nutrients, can stress a horse’s heart and lungs, increase disease risk, and cause greater lethargy, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

An equine veterinarian can help you develop the best possible diet for your horse, tailored to its individual needs. A well-fed horse will be happier and healthier and will have more energy to spend time with its owner.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Stop the Spread of Vesicular Stomatitis

Outbreaks of vesicular stomatitis (VS) occur in Texas every several years, but until this June, there were no reported cases since 2014. Because horses near Austin were recently diagnosed with this disease, horse and livestock owners in nearby areas should take precautions to keep their animals safe.Colt in field

VS is a highly-contagious zoonotic disease that causes blisters in the mouth, tongue, teat, or hooves; crusty sores around the muzzle or hooves; and excessive salivation in horses and livestock, according to Dr. Michelle Coleman, assistant professor of large animal internal medicine at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

While this viral disease can affect horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock, on rare occasions, the disease can spread to people and cause flu-like symptoms, though VS is not highly contagious to humans.

“The virus can be spread through direct contact with infected animals, through saliva that can contaminate the environment, or by blood-feeding insects,” Coleman said. “People handling sick animals should wear gloves.”

Luckily, most animals are able to recover from VS with proper treatment, which mainly involves supportive care as blisters and sores heal by ensuring that animals continue to eat, drink, and behave normally.

“Due to pain of the blisters around the mouth, horses may be reluctant to eat,” Coleman said.

While animals are being treated for VS, they should stay isolated from healthy animals to avoid spreading the disease. Owners should watch out for any new physical symptoms or behavioral changes and talk to a veterinarian if concerned.

Additionally, there are several preventative steps that livestock owners can take to keep VS from spreading to their animals.

“Strategies suggested for the prevention of this disease include control of biting insects and isolation of affected animals, which is essential to reduce the burden and spread of disease,” Coleman said.

“The Texas Animal Health Commission mandates a 14-day quarantine period from the onset of lesions in the last affected animal on any premises with suspected or confirmed VS cases,” she said.

Because of the recent VS outbreaks, it is especially important that livestock owners watch out for signs of the disease and contact a veterinarian if they suspect their animals may be ill.

If VS is caught early and treated persistently, infected animals can recover and go on to live healthy lives. If everyone does their part to prevent the spread of this disease, Texas can once again be free of vesicular stomatitis.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.