Thoroughbred Studs Sport Horse Studs Specialist Breed Studs Racing Syndicates Bloodstock Agents
Thoroughbred Stallions Sport Horse Stallions Specialist Breed Stallions Transport Equine Health
TB Nominations Sport Horses for Sale Specialist Horses for Sale Saddleries Equine Nutrition
Product & Services Horse Feed Equine Diseases Horse Husbandry Equine Sports
Home Eventing Showjumping Dressage Advertising
Home:Equine Diseases:Degenerative Joint Disease

Equine Diseases - Degenerative joint disease




Degenerative joint disease is a type of osteoarthritis which causes lameness in affected horses and is one of the most common causes of lameness in sport horses.

Degenerative joint disease develops when the cartilage protecting the bones of the joint is destroyed.

The joints most commonly affected are the

•  upper knee joint,

•  front fetlocks,

•  hocks,

•  coffin joints in the forefeet

•  spine, including the neck and back.

Degenerative joint disease alters the bone and soft tissues of the joint. The cartilage may wear out, resulting in bone-on-bone grinding and reduced mobility.


The symptoms of Equine Degenerative Joint Disease include:

  • Pain, stiffness and swelling around a joint that lasts longer than two weeks.
  • Aching joints after exercise
  • Stiffness when starting out following periods of inactivity e.g. as sleep or prolonged standing
  • Joint crepitus
  • Performance disimproving
  • Lumps or swellings on the extremities.
  • Joints are red, hot or tender.
  • Wide based stance
  • Reduced range of motion
  • changes in gait
  • Change in joint surfaces or margins
  • Loss of articular cartilage and its components
  • Loss of joint mobility and joint space
  • lack of impulsion,
  • change in temperament
  • soreness of the back and shoulder


Some of the causes of Degenerative joint disease are

  • injury
  • loose joints
  • an abnormal growth pattern
  • inherited factors
  • traumatic injury to hock, stifle, pastern and fetlock joints
  • old age
  • genetics - heavy breeds can be prone to DJD because their weight puts extra demand on their joints. The same goes for horses that are overweight
  • overworking of the joints
  • ill-fitting shoes


Your vet will be able to diagnose DJD fairly quickly. In more severe cases, the use of "stress" views may be necessary. Radiography and Bone scans may also be used if your vet wishes to get a more detailed picture of the joint affected.

Medical treatment includes Analgesic and Anti-inflammatory medications. The range is wide and includes

Acetaminophen this is a pain reliever for mild to moderate pain. Doses should be kept low as too much can cause liver damage.

Nsaids (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce pain and swelling of the joints and improve mobility by decreasing stiffness. These reduce pain as well as inflammation. They need to be taken with caution as there are many long term side-effects which you should discuss with you vet.

Cortisone - a corticosteroid. For severe cases, cortisone may be injected directly into the affected joint. This has a much more powerful anti-inflammatory effect and can provide immediate relief for a badly affected joint.

Visco-Supplementation a gel-like substance is injected into the joint lubricating the cartilage thus providing all round relief from the symptoms of DJD and promoting increased mobility

These medications do not cure the DJD itself. Although your horse can appear very much improved due to the relief from pain, they should be used short term and used in conjunction with changes to your horse's lifestyle which will really bring the best long term benefits.

This is where you come into your own! Changes in your horse's lifestyle and environment will have to be undertaken. Following are tried and true methods of treating DJD.

  • Diet : The correct weight is crucial in the management of DJD. Overweight horses have too much pressure on their knees and hips. If this applies to your horse, you need to immediately implement an appropriate diet. Your vet will help you out here and there are many excellent feed companies who provide a good service in this area.
  • Exercise : This is of paramount importance. Exercise helps keep weight under control, reduce pain, and limit joint damage. If the affected joint is not exercised the muscles supporting it will become lax and weak causing further pain. Frequent and gentle exercise will reap its own rewards
  • Sufficient Rest : working horses suffering from DJD will have to have their schedule reduced. Lack of rest will prevent healing.
  • Proper shoeing : Ill- fitting shoes can cause many joint and muscle problems and are known to be a highly contributing factor to DJD
  • Natural Therapies & Supplements: Cautious use of lifestyle supplements may help horses at risk for Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). Some of these help to suppress the action of free radicals floating around in the tissues and have had good results in helping to maintain the strength of the tissues. Many of them use various combinations of the following:

•  Bioflavonoids, including those made from Camellia sinensis and Vitis vinifera

•  Glucosamine, a nutritional supplement which many people take for their own knee pain.

•  Devil's Claw

•  Grape seed

•  Boswelia

•  Organic MSM a form of sulphur

•  L-Lysine

•  Vitamin C

There are many excellent companies providing these supplements. You can search for them online. They give wonderful information on their product ranges. This research on your part coupled with the opinion of your vet and your own knowledge of your horse and his symptoms, will help give you the best tools to instigate and maintain the best possible lifestyle programme for your DJD affected horse.