Chronic Inflammation in Horses

Kaela Schraer, DVM
By Kaela Schraer, DVM on Nov. 10, 2022
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What Is Chronic Inflammation in Horses?

Inflammation is a critical part of the body’s defenses. When there is an attack on the body through an injury or illness, inflammation creates a barrier against infection and helps to eliminate infection that has already begun.

In some cases, the inflammatory system can become overly active and ultimately cause more harm than good. Autoimmune disorders, exposure to toxins, and untreated acute inflammation are some causes of chronic inflammation in people. Research has begun to show similar pathways occurring in horses as well.

Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation in Horses

Chronic inflammation could be indicated by the following:

Causes of Chronic Inflammation in Horses

Obesity appears to be the most common cause of chronic inflammation in horses, just like it is in people. Obesity contributes to insulin abnormalities and ultimately EMS and PPID. These conditions, in turn, result in even more inflammation and can contribute to episodes of laminitis.

Some breeds such as ponies and draft horses seem more predisposed to obesity and the diseases that go along with it.

Other causes of chronic inflammation, such as autoimmune and toxin exposure, are much rarer and not as well studied or understood in horses.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Chronic Inflammation in Horses

Annual physical exams and routine bloodwork are a good way for your veterinarian to start monitoring for signs of chronic inflammation in your horse. They will assess your horse’s body condition score (BCS), diet, exercise, and look for signs of EMS and PPID.

If your veterinarian is suspicious of EMS or PPID, additional blood tests can be performed including an ACTH stimulation test or Oral Sugar testing.

If your horse is starting to show signs of laminitis, a veterinarian can perform a lameness examination and radiographs.

Treatment of Chronic Inflammation in Horses

Since obesity appears to be one of the main factors causing chronic inflammation in horses, diet and exercise adjustments are among the most common treatments.

Once EMS or PPID have been diagnosed, additional treatments may be helpful. Prascend is commonly prescribed to treat PPID. Thyro-L, low sugar diets, and other supplements may be useful for horses with EMS.

Anti-inflammatory medications like Bute (phenylbutazone), Banamine (flunixin meglumine), and Equioxx (firocoxib) can help decrease the amount of inflammation in the body and are especially helpful for horses with laminitis and osteoarthritis. Additionally, proper shoeing and hoof management can provide support as well.

Recovery and Management of Chronic Inflammation in Horses

Although the best way to treat chronic inflammation is to prevent it from occurring in the first place, once chronic inflammation has resulted in secondary disease, it is important to be consistent with medications and diets recommended by your veterinarian.

Prevention of Chronic Inflammation in Horses

Diet and exercise are key to helping prevent chronic inflammation.

Chronic Inflammation in Horses FAQs

How long does it take for chronic inflammation to heal?

Since the chronic inflammation and all its causes are not fully understood, it is difficult to say if or how long it takes to heal, and each case will be different. The best management is to try to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

What is an anti-inflammatory diet for horses?

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on weight management and low sugar diets.


Blaue, D., Schedlbauer, C., Starzonek, J. et al. The influence of equine body weight gain on inflammatory cytokine expressions of adipose tissue in response to endotoxin challenge. Acta Vet Scand. 2020.

Suagee, Jessica K et al. A Potential Role for Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines in the Development of Insulin Resistance in Horses. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI. 2012.

Zak, A, et al. Effects of Equine Metabolic Syndrome on Inflammation and Acute-Phase Markers in Horses. Domestic Animal Endocrinology, vol. 72. 2020.

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Kaela Schraer, DVM


Kaela Schraer, DVM


Dr. Kaela Schraer graduated from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2017 with her doctorate in veterinary medicine. After...

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