Treatments to Support Joint Health in Your Horse

November 02, 2020
 vet injecting horse's knee

Promoting joint health in your horse is often a multi-prong approach. Starting with appropriate nutrition, plenty of time in turnout and a high-quality joint supplement can create an excellent joint health foundation. But sometimes, horses need more support. If your horse has known joint issues, is in intense work and competition or is aging, your vet may recommend additional treatments and therapies to help keep him comfortable and support healthy joints. Here’s what to know about your many options.

Joint Injections

Joint injections are often one of the first treatments that vets recommend when horses experience joint pain. With a joint injection, a vet administers medication directly into a joint to help reduce inflammation, promote health within the joint, and help the horse return to work or a state of comfort. These injections typically consist of one or more medications like corticosteroids or hyaluronic acid. Many vets have preferred formulas that they have found to be most effective.

Injections can quickly get expensive, and they don’t always help to relieve pain or get a horse to the point where he can return to his previous activity level. It’s also possible for horses to develop joint infections after an injection.

IRAP Therapy

IRAP (or interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein) therapy is a relatively new treatment that has shown some promising results in managing joint issues. The IRAP serum is produced from a sample of the horse’s blood. Then your vet injects the serum into the joint.

IRAP helps to treat the inflammation that causes degenerative joint disease in horses. It works to block the body’s inflammatory response, helping to relieve pain and promoting healing. Vets are still learning more about how this newer therapy can help to treat joint issues.

Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy is most useful when treating joint issues where the joint needs help in healing itself. Stem cells harvested from your horse can turn into any type of cell, so they’re a versatile treatment. By injecting these cells into your horse’s joints, a vet can deliver targeted healing support.


Some joint issues, such as those that result from bone chips, may be correctible with surgery. For instance, arthroscopic surgery can often help treat osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. During surgery, a vet can remove cartilage and bone fragments, repair tissue and ligaments and carefully examine the joint for other issues. Surgery success varies depending on your horse’s condition, age, the affected joint,and the type of surgery needed.

NSAID Medications

NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, can help relieve pain and manage joint health. Bute, Banamine, Surpass and Equioxx are common NSAIDs that your vet might prescribe. These medications work by reducing the inflammation and the resulting pain in your horse’s body, which can be particularly useful when treating arthritis.

But NSAIDs aren’t without their drawbacks. Some horses experience serious side effects when these medications are used on a long-term basis, and issues like colic, ulcers and even toxicity can result. Any horse on these medications needs to be carefully monitored, and the medications may need to be discontinued if side effects result.

The Right Treatment

Joint treatments and therapies for horses are continuously evolving. Your vet may recommend a series of multiple treatments, or a combination of different treatments. Combining these therapies with general joint health management techniques, like feeding a joint supplement, may help keep your horse comfortable and performing at his best.

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