Horse Health

Can We Prevent Arthritis?

Oral joint supplements and nutraceuticals have now been on the market for a quarter of a century. It didn’t take long after their appearance for the question to be raised regarding the potential to actually prevent arthritis.

There are now hundreds of studies looking at the ability of oral supplements to prevent the development of arthritis or slow its progression. For example, positive results have been found for Boswellia in mice (Wang, et al., 2014), mussel extract in rats (Chakraborty, et al., 2010), quercetin in rats (Gardi, et al., 2015), glucosamine in rats (Aghazadek, et al., 2014), glucosamine in overweight women (Runhaar, et al., 2016) and long term chondroitin sulfate in humans (Kahan, et al., 2009) just to list a streaming film The Fate of the Furious 2017

The situation in horses is a bit more complicated. Being natural athletes they often make whatever they are doing look easy but the sheer size of the horse means tremendous forces are generated on his joints. These are further magnified by obesity, work on uneven ground, pre-existing OCD or traumatic damage, any hoof imbalances, conformation imperfections, rider weight, rider errors and quite possibly genetics.

Preventing arthritis will never be as simple as giving a supplement. Nevertheless, there is reason to think it can have a significant effect.

Few active horses escape the bane of arthritis.

In one of the earliest equine studies (White, et al., 1994) it was found that a commercially available chondroitin and glucosamine supplement did not protect against arthritis induced chemically by injection into a joint. However, Vidella and Guerreo 1998 did find significant protection by both oral and injected chondroitin sulfate in a similarly induced condition. The only difference between injected and oral was the injected chondroitin worked faster.

A small unpublished study by Dr. Smith at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital looking at Thoroughbreds in training with and without supplementation with hyaluronic acid oral gel for 59 days found statistically significant decrease in the number of horses evaluated for lameness when supplemented. HA has been shown to reduce postoperative joint swelling following surgery for OCD lesions in the hock (Bergin, et al., 2006). Prevention of postoperative joint degeneration was also confirmed by a study looking at supplementation with ASU (avocado soybean unsaponifiables) in a situation where damage was created surgically (Kawcak, et al., 2007). They found no effect on pain but greatly improved cartilage quality.

A recent study (Leatherwood, et al., 2016) treated young Thoroughbreds with 30 mg/kg/day of glucosamine sulfate for 84 days before injected a carpal (knee) joint with lipopolysaccharide, a bacterial product which induces inflammation. A matched control group was not supplemented. The glucosamine group showed reduced markers of inflammation and cartilage breakdown, increased marker of regeneration compared to the injected control group. That dosage produced a blood level of glucosamine very similar to what was reported to be preventative in laboratory animals.

What to use at what dosage is the million dollar question. Firm answers just don’t exist but the evidence points to keeping at the high end dosages for at least one of the three major joint ingredients: 10,000–15,000 mg glucosamine, 2500–3500 mg chondroitin, 100–200 mg hyaluronic acid.

That’s what I’ve been doing with our racing Standardbreds for the last quarter century, starting when they are broken. The difference in the incidence and severity of joint problems compared to the days before these supplements were available is undeniable. I’ve been around long enough to see both first hand!


All content is for informational purposes only. Contact your local veterinarian if you have any questions regarding the health of your animals.

 About the Author

Dr. Eleanor Kellon is a renowned expert on equine nutrition and related health issues. She offers private nutritional consultations and online courses through Equine Nutritional Solutions. Find out more at, and read more of her articles at

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