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5th March 2009


Prevention better than cure a Sound Theory

Story by Dr John B Walker

Never is the saying “prevention is better than cure” more appropriate than when talking about soundness in racehorses.

Time and again we see good horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have careers limited or cut short due to preventable soundness issues. The most common culprit is degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis.

DJD develops because the inflammation that occurs within the joint, as a result of galloping and racing, gets out of control. Certain enzymes are then released which degrade cartilage.

The cartilage becomes soft and can easily become torn, which then exposes the underlying bone. Further inflammation and pain (and loss of performance) are the end result.

The process accelerates beyond the ability of the body to repair the damage, unless we intervene with an appropriate supplement. Clinical symptoms include lameness, swelling, excessive synovial fluid, pain on flexion and heat. DJD can range from mild to very severe but even mild cases will have a negative impact on performance.

The traditional treatments for DJD include surgery, anti inflammatories, physical therapies and intra-atricular medications including IRAP, sodium hyaluronate and corticosteroids. A crucial step in the prevention and treatment of DJD is the use of oral nutraceuticals.

If used as a treatment, evidence shows that a correct oral dosage needs to deliver at least 10,000mg of glycosaminoglycans (Glucosamine & Chondroitin).

Consequently, a high quality joint powder concentrate like Shark Net or Cosequin is recommended. My personal preference is Shark Net because it also includes adequate levels of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).

MSM is an excellent dietary source of Sulphur, an element that is important in the formation f connective tissue and is credited with enhancing blood circulation and reducing inflammation and epiphysitis. Please note that AR 178 C (2) allows the oral administration of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate.

In my experience, one of the greatest benefits of these daily oral treatments is their long term preventative function. On a maintenance dose they are a very low cost way of keeping a cartilage matrix healthy and helping prevent the onset of osteoarthritis.

This doesn’t just apply to older working horses. We now see leading thoroughbred studs like Arrowfield using oral joint treatments as a prophylactic on yearlings to help ensure they reach both the sales and the race track in the best possible physical condition. Arrowfield uses Shark Net Joint Powder Concentrate on both their racing and yearling stock.

The message for trainers and owners is that our sport does take its toll on the horse’s joints and it is our responsibility to do what we can to limit the damage.

The best time to start treating thoroughbreds with oral glycosaminglycans is as un-raced young horses, because prevention is much better (and cheaper) than cure! See it as a financial investment if you like. Should clinical signs of DJD become apparent, a detailed veterinary examination is needed to determine the appropriate therapy.

Dr John B Walker BVSc has more than 15 years experience working with some of the best horses in the country, from Olympic gold medalists to Australian champion racehorses like Makybe Diva and Miss Andretti. He now heads up Performance Equine Veterinarians, a specialist multi-vet equine practice that services many leading trainers. He also consults extensively both interstate and overseas. Contact johnnie@horsevet.com.au or

call 03 5989 7031

For further information on Shark Net Joint Powder Concentrate please go to http://www.equinehealthscience.com.au/ or contact Seamus Marwood 0414 880 432.