By Charles Maker, DVM
Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis is one of the main causes of lameness in horses. DJD occurs when the joint cartilage is destroyed producing pain and inflammation which in turn reduces your horse’s performance. Spontaneous joint disease is a common clinical problem in our active horse population. Surveys estimate that up to 60% of lameness is related to osteoarthritis. Typical therapies involve a combination of intra-articular medications such as hyaluronic acid and/or corticosteroids, rest and oral pain medications.
Several recent cases have presented to the hospital that have benefited from a relatively novel new method in helping horses with joint injuries. Joint treatments with anabolic steroids have recently been studied to combat osteoarthritis in horses and sheep. The anabolic steroid stanozolol has been shown to reduce the formation of osteophytes and subchondral bone reaction, two significant deleterious changes seen with osteoarthritis. Joint cartilage treated with stanozolol has demonstrated regeneration with a normal morphological structure in scientific studies. While repeated injections are sometimes necessary with this new method, as compared to when using corticosteroids, the thought is that the regenerative aspect of using these drugs is potentially superior to simply reducing pain and inflammation in the short term. Furthermore, age old corticosteroids have been shown to desiccate articular cartilage preparations making cartilage less resilient, though it be with reduced pain; Potentially just “kicking the can down the road” with respect to your horses orthopedic needs and future athletic potential. Several recent papers have shown beneficial effects in the horse with osteoarthritis. Feel free to call Dr Maker to discuss your horse’s lameness needs and potential treatments available to make sure your horse performs at its best.