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Orthopedic Problems in Horses: Alternative TherapiesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · November 20, 2017

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM) as a “heterogenous group of preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic philosophies and practices.” Common examples of CAVM include acupuncture, homeopathy, magnetic field therapy, phytotherapy, and nutraceutical support.

Despite the limited evidence backing up many of these practices in either veterinary or human medicine, horse owners still seek individuals willing to perform alternative therapies on their horses, especially for managing musculoskeletal conditions. Swiss researchers surveyed horse owners to determine how CAVM modalities are used in horses with orthopedic problems.

Of the 170 horses described by survey respondents, 96 had lameness in one or more limb, 62 had back problems, and 12 had a combination of lameness and a back problem. Not only was CAVM used therapeutically, but owners also accepted various CAVM modalities for diagnostic purposes to help define the location or severity of the condition. This was especially true for horses with suspected back problems.

“One of the most concerning aspects of this study was that most of the CAVM practitioners consulted by owners or caretakers were not veterinarians. This means that both the diagnosis and recommended treatment were potentially made without the guidance of a licensed veterinarian,” noted Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Owners are encouraged to always consult a veterinarian to obtain a valid diagnosis and to discuss all treatment options prior to committing to a specific therapy. In some cases, distinguishing between orthopedic disorders and neurological conditions can be challenging.

“This holds true even for nutritional supplements, which are classified as CAVM,” advised Crandell.

“Nutritional supplements vary markedly in quality and may even be contaminated by ingredients not listed on the product label. Owners are encouraged to select only high-quality supplements, including joint supplements,” she added.

KER offers several quality joint supplements to support musculoskeletal health in horses. These include KER•Flex, with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride; Synovate HA with high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid; and EO•3, a marine-derived source of both DHA and EPA. Australian horse owners should also look for Glucos-A-Flex.

KER is certified by FAMI-QS, an international quality and safety certification system for the animal feed industry, as well as other governing agencies.

*Lange, C.D., S. Axiak Flammer, V. Gerber, et al. 2017. Complementary and alternative medicine for the management of orthopaedic problems in Swiss Warmblood horses. Veterinary Medicine and Science. 3(3):125-133.