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Corticosteroid Therapy Offers Relief for Equine Joint Inflammation

Horse Health

With the work and stress put on the legs of every equine athlete, across disciplines, it’s no surprise that joint inflammation is a common problem among working horses. Fortunately, intra-articular corticosteroids provide veterinarians with a long-proven aid for reducing inflammation in damaged joints. The hallmark of judicious use of these therapeutic tools is to give the horse the lowest dose that will achieve clinical results.

Regrettably, beneficial, therapeutic steroids – such as intra-articular corticosteroids – have received undeserved bad press due to the media attention given to anabolic steroids in human athletes. These anabolic, or androgenic, steroids are used to build muscle and have been abused in some circles by those attempting to enhance human athletic performance. This abuse can create irreversible health problems. By contrast, intra-articular corticosteroids are used throughout the medical world to help alleviate swelling and inflammation – often with dramatic results.

“Corticosteroids are among the best tools we, as equine veterinary practitioners, have to reduce inflammation in horses’ joints,” said John Donecker, VMD, Senior Veterinarian at Pfizer Animal Health. “Like any other therapeutic method, use of corticosteroids should be carefully monitored as part of an overall recuperation program for the affected horse.”

When considering the use of equine intra-articular corticosteroid therapy, veterinarians must carefully evaluate the amount of swelling present in the joint. Research evidence suggests that corticosteroids may have detrimental effect when given at overly high doses, when given repeatedly or when administered to joints where inflammation is not occurring.

Moreover, there may be a temptation among horse owners to put a horse back to work rather quickly once the effects of the steroid therapy are seen. This is a mistake, however, as overly vigorous exercise or returning to work prematurely can defeat the purpose of the original treatment. In fact, proper rest following injury and treatment may allow the joint’s own healing abilities to return to normal and the joint lubrication – called synovial fluid – to reacquire its former viscosity.

“The truth is, corticosteroids can do a lot of good for horses with joint inflammation,” said Dr. Donecker. “These drugs have been helping horses for decades and, used properly, they can continue to do so for some time to come.”

Pfizer, Inc. (NYSE: PFE), the world’s largest research-based biomedical and pharmaceutical company, also is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines. Pfizer Animal Health is dedicated to improving the safety, quality and productivity of the world’s food supply by enhancing the health of livestock and poultry; and in helping horses and pets to live longer and healthier lives. For additional information on Pfizer Animal Health’s portfolio of equine products, visit