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Arthritis in Horses: Algae ResearchBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 22, 2014

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is the painful destruction of joint tissues, an important cause of lameness, and an important contributor to economic losses throughout the equine industry.

“There are a variety of drugs and treatment modalities available for horses with osteoarthritis, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids injected directly into affected joints. Because some of those drugs can cause side effects and there is no cure for osteoarthritis, alternative therapies to minimize discomfort and slow the progression of the disease are needed,” explains Bryan M. Waldridge, D.V.M., head veterinarian at Kentucky Equine Research.

One alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like phenylbutazone is blue-green algae, which contains a protein-bound pigment called C-phycocyanin. Published studies report C-phycocyanin possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and could therefore potentially benefit patients with osteoarthritis.

Researchers from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University in Alabama recruited 41 athletic horses with naturally occurring lameness due to osteoarthritis. Horses were treated with either a commercially available product containing C-phycocyanin or a placebo. At time 0 then again at 2 and 4 weeks and 4, 6, 9, and 12 months, horses were assessed for lameness.

According to the authors, “Although this study did not find statistically significant improvement of lameness with oral daily supplementation with C-phycocyanin in equine athletes, there appeared to be a trend of improvement in lameness during the loading period and a decrease in frequency of administration of intra-articular corticosteroids. Further investigations using a higher dose seem warranted.”

* Taintor, J.S., J. Wright, F. Caldwell, B. Dymond, and J. Schumacher. 2014. Efficacy of an extract of blue-green algae in amelioration of lameness caused by degenerative joint disease in the horse. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 34,10:1197-1200.