Ask anyone who suffers from arthritis what it’s like, and you’ll hear just one word repeated and repeated – pain. And you won’t have to look very far to find people to ask. In some cases, you don’t even need to ask – you can tell just by watching them move; they don’t like to because it hurts.
We’re not alone in coping with this painful monster – our horses, like humans, are quite prone to arthritis, and they hurt just as much as we do.
We hope medical science will soon be able to control it, even cure it, both horse and human, but until then, because it’s a chronic degenerative disease, the prognosis isn’t good. Once it’s in our joints, it’s there for keeps, and if left untreated, it just gets worse. So we compensate: we medicate to mitigate the symptoms. We avoid activities that we know will hurt.
Lucky us, humans can do that. Horses not so much. They rely upon us to see and recognize their symptoms, then do something about it to ease their pain, just as we do our own. Problem is, sometimes we don’t “get the message” when our horse hurts. But the clues are there, you can bet on it. We need to recognize what their body language is saying.
Fortunately, most of us can spot a horse that’s in obvious pain, though we may not be able to pinpoint exactly where it’s centered. Here are some of the general symptoms that tell us that our horse is hurting:
- An obvious limp
- A listless, depressed attitude
- Decreased appetite
- Lies down more than usual
- Doesn’t move around as much as usual, less interested in playing
- Separates himself from his herdmates
- When standing, eases the weight load on an involved leg by “pointing” a forefoot or “flexing” a hind foot to let the opposite leg take up the weight burden
- When ridden, seems stiff, may refuse certain movements such as collection, jumps, certain turns and the like
- We get a break when examining specifically for arthritis: it is a disease that’s centered in the joints, which narrows down which areas we need to concentrate on
Here are some of the symptoms of arthritic pain:
- Joint swelling
- Warmth around a joint
- Reduced ability to move the joint
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Misshapen joint
- When picking his feet, you notice less dirt, hay, manure packed in
When we do see the symptoms, we bring in the vet to do another evaluation, and if our suspicions are confirmed, our next thought is how do we get rid of the problem? Can’t we just take a pill?