Tend To Garden-Variety Arthritis in Horses With Simple, Low-Cost Formulas

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You can easily spend $3 a day putting your horse on a supercharged joint supplement. However, you may not need to do that.

There’s really no sense in feeding — and paying for — ingredients that your horse doesn’t need. Yes, of course, some horses truly do need the high-potency, multi-ingredient, high-priced supplements for best results. However, don’t let a long ingredients list or high price make that decision for you. Let your individual horse tell you what works and what doesn’t.

To help you sort through the dizzying array of options out there, we’ve divided this round of trial results into supplements that cost $1.25 or less per day at manufacturer’s suggested maintenance dose and those that are higher.

Multiple ingredients and/or new ingredients tend to drive a product’s cost up without necessarily providing more relief than old stand-by ingredients, like glucosamine. In this first article of our two-part series on joint nutraceuticals, we’re going to focus on moderately priced products and how they performed in horses receiving a joint supplement for the first time.

Would Your Horse Benefit'

Like the prescription arthritis treatments of injectable hyaluronic acid or Legend, joint nutraceuticals are indicated for horses that have problems involving the joint cartilage or the lining of the joint, called the synovium.

Arthritis literally means inflammation of a joint. This often starts as irritation and thickening of the synovium and thinning of cartilage in areas that bear weight. The cartilage is the gristle-like substance that covers the ends of the bones at the joint. It cushions and protects the bone. The cartilage and joint fluid also allow for smooth, low friction movement of the joint.

The joint fluid in inflamed joints is often thinner and less lubricating than normal. Once cartilage begins to thin, there is less cushioning effect and the joint is more vulnerable to further thinning and damage during weight-bearing. The horse’s natural repair processes have a difficult time keeping up with breakdown once this process starts. Oral joint supplements are most likely to have the greatest effect at the earlier stages of arthritis.

While there’s no harm (except to your wallet) in trying a joint supplement if you think your horse will benefit, it’s always best to involve your veterinarian in this decision. This will both confirm that arthritis is really the cause of any problems the horse might be having and help you decide if this is really the best type of treatment and what results you might expect.

In ”Put It To Use,” below, we list some clinical observations and exam or X-ray findings that will help you decide what is a reasonable expectation for your horse. In general, advanced arthritic changes, including uneven joint spaces or decreased joint spaces and prominent bony ”spurs” (osteophytes) on X-rays, mean there is extensive loss of cartilage. A horse like this might have the progression slowed using joint nutraceuticals and might even have improved comfort but don’t expect miracles. Damage to any of the ligaments stabilizing the joint makes it unstable and allows abnormal movement leading to ongoing joint irritation or injury. This type of injury is also slow to heal, if it ever does.

On the other hand, garden-variety arthritis/stiffness diagnosed before the joint cartilage is extensively damaged often responds very well. Even angry, hot, swollen joints indicating acute inflammation and arthritis or a recent flare-up of an older problem can come under rapid control.

If your horse is currently being managed by injectable drugs, he’s a good candidate for oral supplements, and you may well find that the interval between expensive injections can be significantly stretched out, or you can do without them entirely. We observed this effect in prior field trials, and it was also reported in the International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine. Discuss incorporating an oral supplement with your veterinarian.

What Do They Do'

In the chart ”Nutraceutical Ingredients and Activities,” we list commonly found joint-supplement ingredients and how they may work, plus the minimal amounts of ingredients needed to actually make a difference. This is based on both laboratory studies on cell cultures and clinical trials.

Many chondroitin studies are negative or show only modest effects, which certainly fits with what we have seen since our very first joint supplement field trial. With glucosamine alone, we usually see results within 1 to 3 weeks with adequate dosing.

However, the most recent laboratory and clinical trials are showing an advantage for taking glucosamine and chondroitin in combination. This is in both horses and other species, laboratory experiments and clinical studies.

These ”synergistic effects,” meaning that some ingredients are believed to work better in combination than either one alone, are often claimed for products that have multiple ingredients. There are studies that show better effects for glucosamione and chondroitin in combination than for either alone, but anything beyond that is speculation.

A claim for any complementary effects is more accurate in some supplements because they include anti-inflammatory effects from ingredients like MSM or devil’s claw that have direct pain-relieving effects.

Getting Started

Your choice of a starting point for a joint supplement depends on the horse’s symptoms. Glucosamine alone, or in combination with chondroitin, is most consistent in reducing pain/lameness but with variable results on joint swelling and active inflammation. Expect to start seeing results within one to three weeks with the optimal dosages listed in our product chart.

For active horses with acutely swollen and hot joints, or chronic cases experiencing a flare-up, effective levels of MSM, devil’s claw or hyaluronic acid will bring them under control quicker. Horses who already have advanced joint damage are most likely to benefit from products that include these and other herbal or nutraceutical supports, which will be discussed in part 2 of this series.

Our Trials

We chose horses from all age groups and activity levels, with acute and chronic problems. Horses with obviously unstable joints or those otherwise known not to be good candidates were not included. Horses had either never received a joint supplement, or had not received one for six months or longer beforehand. Read our results as well as our ratings in order to choose the product you think might best fit your horse’s situation.

Note, too, that we found the manufacturer’s suggested initial and maintenance doses aren’t necessarily the most effective. If this is the case with a product you’re considering, remember that your daily costs would be higher than maintenance listings, so you may not really save money.

Bottom Line

A number of products in this trial performed very well, as you can see by our ratings. However, we always like to factor in price, especially when we’re considering a lower-cost group of products.

By far the least expensive supplement in this trial was the original Joint Renew, pure glucosamine at a cost of only 74??/day for a full 10,000-gram therapeutic dose. It provided effective improvements in pain, especially with chronic arthritis problems.

However, NuPro Multiflex is a standout for potency, with combination ingredients, and is effective at only the regular dose for 89??/day, making it our overall choice in this section of our series.

For maximum anti-inflammatory kick in this group of products, MaxForm delivers both high doses of joint-support ingredients and a full therapeutic dose of MSM at the loading dose. You could also buy bulk MSM yourself, of course, at about 90?? to $1/day for a 20-gram dose.

If you prefer a non-chemical approach for rapid inflammation control, consider ProMotion EQ. It’s expensive, but it was very effective in our trial horses.

Finally, we noted that the results from liquid products in this trial were generally poor. We were careful to keep them out of the direct sun, but environmental temperatures during the trial were high. Research to develop more specific storage and stability information on labels might be helpful.