What Is Inflammation In Horses & How To Treat It
Inflammation is a common issue in horses. As an owner, trainer or rider, it’s essential to understand the causes of inflammation so you can provide the proper treatment if necessary. This article discusses what inflammation is, its causes and some of the best horse anti-inflammatories and therapies.
- Inflammation is a common condition in horses that can cause pain, swelling and lameness.
- Horse inflammation can have a range of origins, including infections, injuries, allergies, withers soreness and more.
- Treatment options include anti-inflammatory medication, rest, controlled exercise, massage therapy, PEMF, hydrotherapy and more.
- Working with a veterinarian to determine the best treatment and management plan for inflammation is paramount.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, infection or irritation. It causes pain and other symptoms that can damage a horse’s health if left untreated.
Inflammation can occur in all parts of the horse’s body, from the legs to the digestive system.
Signs of Inflammation
The clinical signs of inflammation in horses vary depending on the location and cause.
Common signs include:
- Heat to the touch
If your horse has any of these signs, seek veterinary advice promptly. Inflammation can have a range of sources, some more serious than others.
Causes of Inflammation In Horses
Inflammation is usually caused by injury, infection or immune system malfunction. Sometimes, it can be due to a horse’s environment or lifestyle.
Common causes of inflammation include:
- Infections: Bacterial, viral and fungal infections
- Injuries: Strains, sprains, bruises and cuts
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to food, hay or environmental irritants
- Immune System Disorders: Some immune system disorders cause inflammation
- Environmental Factors: Hot and humid conditions, as well as dust and pollen
- Lifestyle Factors: Lack of exercise or over-exercising, poor nutrition and stress
The best way to determine the cause of your horse’s inflammation is to work with a veterinarian.
How To Treat Inflammation and Provide Pain Relief
Anti-inflammatory treatment focuses on reducing inflammation, controlling pain and limiting discomfort.
Depending on the cause, your vet may recommend a range of treatments, including:
A Horse Anti-Inflammatory
Equine medicine is usually given orally or injected but may also be applied as a cream or salve.
Popular anti-inflammatory drugs include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids. Medicine may be necessary to treat injuries, musculoskeletal disorders and other causes of inflammation.
In many cases, treatment involves limiting the horse’s activity and changing its lifestyle or environment. This can help reduce inflammation and speed up healing.
Hydrotherapy is probably the most effective therapy for inflammation reduction.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat the origin of inflammation. This may involve removing a foreign body from the horse’s body or correcting a structural issue.
Controlling Pain with NSAIDs: Using Equine Medicine
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a commonly used equine medicine. NSAIDs are often used for horse inflammation, especially when treating musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis or joint pain.
Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Horses
Popular NSAIDs for horses include phenylbutazone (Bute), firocoxib (Equioxx), ketoprofen (Ketofen) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine).
NSAIDs have potent anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties that make them ideal for treating many injuries and conditions and may be administered by injection, orally or as a cream.
NSAIDs are typically safe when used as directed and can be very effective, especially when combined with hydrotherapy and other treatment tools. That said, NSAIDs, like all medications, have potential side effects for horses.
NSAID Side Effects
As with any medication, NSAIDs have possible side effects and dangers.
Possible side effects include:
- Digestive upset, including diarrhea
- Decreased urine production
- Liver or kidney damage
- Gastric ulceration
- Right dorsal colitis
- Renal papillary necrosis
Monitor horses on NSAIDs for inflammation reduction or pain control closely and consult with a vet before giving any horse anti-inflammatories. Also, be sure to follow the dosage instructions carefully.
Types of NSAIDs
Various NSAIDs perform differently, so if your horse is prescribed NSAIDs, research the drug to understand how it works. For example, some NSAIDs are more effective for treating nervous system pain, while others are better for treating musculoskeletal disorders.
Check the specific name of the equine medicine–most often phenylbutazone (Bute), firocoxib (Equioxx), ketoprofen (Ketofen) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine)–and look up side effects and uses, or discuss the drug with the vet.
When to Stop Using NSAIDs
If a horse shows signs of gastric ulceration, right dorsal colitis, renal papillary necrosis or other side effects, the vet will most likely stop NSAID treatment immediately and pursue alternative care.
Gastric ulcers, right dorsal colitis and other problems can have severe and painful consequences and should always be treated promptly.
Horses with An Increased Risk of Side Effects
Horses that are young, old, pregnant or have liver or kidney damage may be at an increased risk of experiencing side effects when taking horse anti-inflammatories. Horses with gastric ulcers or those taking other NSAIDs may also be at a higher risk.
If the horse can avoid taking an NSAID, like phenylbutazone (Bute) or flunixin meglumine (Banamine), it doesn’t run the risk of side effects, like gastric ulcers and right dorsal colitis, which is better for the horse’s overall health and safety.
This is not to say that phenylbutazone (Bute) or flunixin meglumine (Banamine) are unnecessary or can be avoided in all cases. NSAIDs are often needed for successful recovery and pain alleviation.
Therapeutic Alternatives to Equine Medicine
Equine therapies can be an excellent resource for horse owners looking to provide pain relief and lessen inflammation. Therapy is also great for inflammation and injury prevention.
We discuss a few alternatives/additions to medication below.
Equine hydrotherapy (or aqua therapy) can benefit all types of horses. Hydrotherapy tools typically include many features for optimisation. In a controlled environment, like a water treadmill or spa, horses can be immersed in salt or freshwater that’s cold or warm, depending on their needs. The horse either rests in the water or does low-impact exercise.
Horse owners, trainers and vets can use hydrotherapy to strengthen horses’ bodies and improve cardiovascular health. Hydrotherapy can also be helpful in rehabilitating ligaments and tendons, reducing swelling and inflammation, speeding wound healing, and controlling pain, among other things.
Water treadmills are great low-impact fitness tools for rehabilitating active and competing horses, and they’re a good option for relieving inflammation.
The Animal Therapeutics Equine Water Treadmill rang allows users to adjust water depth, aeration, salt content and water temperature. Cold water can alleviate inflammation, contributing to faster healing. And reduced impact exercise–made possible by the buoyancy of the water–can help the horse stay in shape while preventing further damage to the inflamed area.
Spas are often the perfect addition to a rehabilitating horse’s treatment program or a healthy horse’s conditioning regime. Hydrotherapy spas are designed for comfort and safety and typically combine a mixture of features that enhance healing and reduce inflammation.
The Activo-Med Equine Spa is a customisable, multipurpose equine hydrotherapy spa with a variable fill level of aerated fresh or salt water. The chilled water helps reduce inflammation and assists in healing.
The optional vibrating floor also helps alleviate inflammation by increasing blood circulation, making the spa with the vibrating floor doubly effective for inflammation reduction.
Since the horse simply has to stand in the spa, it’s a good therapy tool for horses on box rest.
PEMF Therapy for Inflammation and Pain Relief
Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy is often used to treat wounds, fractured bones, arthritis and inflammation. It can also be a pain reduction tool after an injury or surgery.
PEMF is a great, non-invasive alternative or addition to equine medicine that owners and trainers can administer in various ways.
Handheld PEMF Machine
The Activo-Med Handheld PEMF Device + Light (Red and Infrared) Cluster combines PEMF with light therapy to accelerate healing and relieve pain and inflammation.
With this handheld device, it’s easy to target different areas of the body with PEMF and light therapy, giving optimal flexibility.
PEMF can penetrate the hoof capsule and contribute to hoof healing, making PEMF hoof boots an ideal option for horses suffering from inflammation, laminitis, bruised soles, weakened hoof walls and other hoof problems.
The Activo-Med Combi Hoof Boots strap securely to the horse’s hoof and come with helpful pre-settings, though programs can be made to suit your horse’s needs.
You can strap a PEMF rug onto a horse much like a regular turnout rug to provide the horse with comfortable and convenient PEMF therapy. PEMF rugs work well for recovery and conditioning and can boost lazy horses’ energy and calm those who tend toward nervousness.
The Activo-Med Combi Pro II Blue Therapy System is a lightweight rug with an integrated neck portion, ensuring plenty of coverage for PEMF therapy. It has breathable mesh panels and adjustable straps for a custom fit. A range of pre-set programs make tailoring therapy to the horse easy, and it includes 14 massage panels so horses can receive massage therapy in addition to PEMF.
The products we discuss above are just a few PEMF products that relieve pain, lessen inflammation and promote healing. You can find more PEMF products here.
FAQs About Horse Inflammation
Inflammation concerns horse owners and trainers alike, but horse care professionals can manage inflammation safely and compassionately with the proper knowledge and tools.
To help you navigate this common health problem, here are some commonly asked questions:
How Can Riders Prevent Inflammation in Horses?
Inflammation is sometimes unavoidable, but horse owners can take a few steps to reduce the risk of acute or chronic inflammation in horses.
Help maintain horse health and ease inflammation by:
- Properly conditioning the horse for its discipline
- Monitoring saddle fit
- Scheduling regular vet checkups
- Regularly cleaning and trimming horse hooves and adjusting shoes when needed
- Limiting a horse’s overexertion
- Maintaining a horse’s overall nutrition and hydration
- Providing the horse with a comfortable, safe environment
Prevention is always the best measure to take when horse health is concerned, but if inflammation does occur, horse owners need to recognise it and take appropriate steps.
What Else Do NSAIDs Treat Besides Inflammation?
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to treat cases of horse inflammation and other horse ailments.
NSAIDs can help with muscle soreness, joint pain, gastroenteritis and colic, laminitis and more. Horse owners should always consult the vet before administering medication.
What Is a Loading Dose?
When horse owners administer medication or other therapies, they may come across the term “loading dose.” A loading dose is a larger initial dose followed by a smaller maintenance dose. The initial large dose establishes therapeutic levels of the treatment quickly and efficiently.
Giving too much of a dose upfront or too high of an ongoing dose can harm horse health, so follow dosing instructions closely.
What Other Benefits Does PEMF Therapy Offer?
In addition to relieving horse inflammation, PEMF therapy has many benefits.
PEMF can stimulate the horse’s natural healing mechanisms, improve circulation and oxygen delivery to cells, increase flexibility in joints and tendons, decrease muscle spasms and more. It’s also been known to boost equine energy levels and may even improve a horse’s mental health.
Don’t be afraid to discuss PEMF and other therapies with your horse’s vet. The options for horse care are ever-expanding, and horse owners should be open to exploring all possibilities for their horse’s health and comfort.
Encourage Good Health and Lessen Inflammation Naturally
Therapies like PEMF and hydrotherapy can be used alongside NSAIDs to control pain and limit inflammation in many cases. In some instances, hydrotherapy and PEMF may even negate the need for NSAIDs.
With that in mind, owners and trainers should carefully assess horse inflammation, be aware of the horse’s complete history and discuss what therapies are the safest and most effective for the horse with the horse’s veterinarian before beginning treatment.
A horse with a well-rounded treatment plan has the best chance of healing quickly and successfully from inflammation.