Equine Arthritis in Horses

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Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) 


Arthritis, often called degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a condition that afflicts many horses. Arthritis is not only painful, but makes it difficult for a horse to move about. The condition is normally characterized as a slowly developing chronic disease of the joint in which the joint surface (cartilage) wears down, resulting in pain and subsequent lameness.


Arthritis cannot be treated, but in many cases it can be managed. This condition is often an inevitable change as a horse grows older, and often is the reason for a horse to be retired from riding.


Symptoms and Types


  • Stiffness that a horse can usually warm out of
  • Joint swelling (can be one or more joints). Common joints to see arthritis are the fetlock, carpus (knee), and hock.
  • Lameness


There is also a type of arthritis called septic arthritis. This is an acute form of DJD caused by a bacterial infection. This is extremely detrimental to the horse and can be difficult to treat, as it is hard to get antibiotics into the joint capsule. Septic arthritis is seen in foals that have compromised immune systems or systemic disease, and also if there has been a traumatic injury near a joint.




  • Trauma to the joint (i.e. hard work over the years)
  • Wound and infection (septic arthritis)




Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose arthritis in your horse with a physical examination and a lameness exam. Sometimes radiographs (x-rays) are used to assess the severity of the arthritis, especially if the horse is still being ridden.