Q: I have a 16.3hh, 14-year-old part Shire mare who has recently been diagnosed with coffin joint osteoarthritis. The vet has injected steroids straight into the joint, which has been successful and she is now back in work, but I am looking for alternative treatments.

A: Arthritic changes in the joints of the lower limbs occur commonly in elderly horses and seem to be a particular problem in horses used for jumping, eventing and other performance events. Trauma is likely to be the main factor, although arthritis of the coffin joint can be associated with navicular disease.

Lameness is usually non-specific and a diagnosis can usually be made by performing an intra-articular block followed by X-rays. Conventional treatment can involve corrective shoeing to help prevent excessive dorsal flexion of the joint together with some pain-relieving drugs.

Phenylbutazone is often used but other cases can be treated with steroid or or sodium hyaluronate injections straight into the joint. Steroid treatment often produces very good results, but this is short-livedand can promote further joint degeneration if continued beyond a recommended period.

Complementary medicine can offer several alternatives to using drugs and can be combined with the use of specialised shoes if necessary.

Herbal remedies

This is the most popular and effective ways of treating problems of this type. Commonly used herbal remedies include stinging nettle, meadowsweet, celery seed, comfrey and devil’s claw.

In general, dried mixes are slower to take effect compared to tincture based products, which are absorbed into the body much faster. Some are made up in cider vinegar an old-fashioned remedy with a reputation for helping arthritis problems.

Homoeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are also widelyused but are prescribed on a more specific basis depending to some extent on the patient?s individual symptoms.

Remedies that have proved effective include Rhus tox (Poison ivy), Ruta grav (Rue), Heckla lava (Volcanic rock), Ledum pal (Marsh tea), Calc Fluor (Calcium fluoride), Bryonia (White bryony) and Arnica (Leopard’s bane).

Nutrition

More recently nutritional supplements, which are now often referred to as nutraceuticals, have been gaining popularity for treating arthritis.

Glucosamine compounds are the building blocks of large molecules called glycosaminoglycans or GAGs for short. These important molecules are involved in the formation of connective tissue, mucous membranes and joints. GAGs also have the ability to reduce inflammation, repair damaged cartilage and limit the destruction of bone which can lead to arthritis.

Good sources of GAG compounds include chondroitin sulphate, shark cartilage and green lipped mussel (Perna mussel).

Other therapies that have proved effective include magnets and acupuncture. Magnetic boots can help by improving the blood flow and oxygenation of the tissues of the foot and seem to work well for many horses. Acupuncture also has a good reputation for relieving the symptoms of arthritis and can have beneficial effects, especially when combined with homeopathic remedies.

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