What are Gonitis and Osteoarthritis?
Although osteoarthritis is often considered a disease that affects older animals, this can occur in young athletes, particularly in those that perform a repeated motion at high intensity. Other factors that may predispose your horse to developing osteoarthritis or gonitis are previous injury or pathological disease of the musculoskeletal system.
Although all forms of this condition other than septic arthritis are degenerative there are a range of treatments that can help manage the disease and improve your horse’s comfort. In order to diagnose your horse with this disease and provide them with the appropriate treatment your veterinarian will need to perform diagnostic examinations. Contact your veterinarian for a clinical assessment for your horse to begin their treatment and reduce discomfort.
Gonitis and osteoarthritis are conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system of the horse. Osteoarthritis is attributed to over 60% of cases of lameness in horses, and can affect animals of all ages. While osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the whole body, gonitis is localised to the stifle joint of the horse. This condition can cause pain and stiffness in horses, with one of the most obvious symptoms being a change in gait or limping.
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Symptoms of Gonitis and Osteoarthritis in Horses
The symptoms shown by horses suffering from these conditions vary. The most commonly seen is lameness, reduced performance or hesitance to exercise. Other signs may be:
- Pain on digital manipulation
- Swelling or distention of the stifle joint
- Locked kneecap
- Exercise intolerance
- Lameness increased with exercise and reduced following rest
- Localised tissue heat
- Purulent discharge in septic cases
Causes of Gonitis and Osteoarthritis in Horses
Unlike in other animals where osteoarthritis is commonly seen in older animals, this often affects young, fit horses. Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that causes the progressive degradation of the cartilage that lines the long bones. The cause of osteoarthritis can vary, although it may be due to:
- Underlying pathology such as osteochondrosis
- Damaged cartilage due to capsulitis or synovitis
- Athletic trauma
- Loss of stability
- Secondary due to history of trauma such as fractures, septic arthritis, wounds or dislocations
Gonitis is the inflammation of the stifle joint and can take either acute or chronic forms.
- Acute aseptic gonitis – Caused by trauma due to severe contusion or mild recurrent contusions at the stifle
- Acute septic gonitis – Caused by infection following the introduction of bacteria into the joint
- Chronic gonitis – May follow acute gonitis or develop over time due to trauma, excessive stress on the joints or overexertion, or improper shoeing
Diagnosis of Gonitis and Osteoarthritis in Horses
Your veterinarian will watch your horse from a distance, observing their gait and looking for signs of lameness, they will then examine your horse in a full head to tail examination and discuss their clinical history and any concerns you may have. They may extend your horse’s limbs and investigate their range of motion.
In order to visualise the skeletal system radiographs may be taken, these will allow your veterinarian to assess bone changes. MRI scans may also be used and assist in the diagnosis of disease of the cartilage, bone, ligaments and joint capsules.
Treatment of Gonitis and Osteoarthritis in Horses
Your veterinarian will discuss analgesia options with you such as anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. Phenylbutazone is the most commonly used in this condition, however prolonged analgesia therapy with this has side effects on the gastrointestinal tract and renal system. Studies have also shown that injections of corticosteroids directly into the joint may also improve joint mobility and comfort in patients.
In cases of septic arthritis, systemic or local antibiotics will be required for your pet. A sample taken using a sterile, fine needle aspirate technique can be sent for culture and sensitivity diagnostics to identify the causative antigen and ensure the most effective antibiotic therapy is provided.
Recovery of Gonitis and Osteoarthritis in Horses
Your veterinarian will discuss the management of this condition with you. Unfortunately, in cases of degenerative osteoarthritis, there is no cure, however this condition can be managed to reduce pain for your horse. Long-term anti-inflammatory treatment may be required to provide your horse with quality of life.
Oral nutraceuticals may be considered, with some research suggesting that glucosamine and chondrosulfate are beneficial in the management of these conditions. Discuss the possibility of nutritional support with your veterinarian. Other actions you can take to support your horse’s well being are:
- Reducing the intensity of exercise
- Allowing light exercise such as swimming
- Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce pressure on the musculoskeletal system
- If your horse is overweight it is essential that slow weight loss is maintained; discuss a nutritional plan with your veterinarian
- Allowing your horse to rest in a large stall with soft bedding
- Ensuring proper shoeing is provided