Joint Supplements for Horses

Degenerative issues in the joints such as arthritis are one of the most common causes of lameness in the horse, particularly older individuals. Medications prescribed by the vet usually help to address inflammation and pain. In addition, many horse owners use a nutritional joint supplement for horses as a way of helping to manage existing issues but also to try and reduce the potential for problems later in the horse’s life. However, in most cases, joint supplements for horses are not used until the horse has actually developed a problem like arthritis.

Healthy Joints in Horses

In a healthy joint, the ends of the bones are coated with a thin layer of articular cartilage and a synovial membrane which surrounds the joint. The synovial membrane secretes synovial fluid that nourishes the articular cartilage, allows passage of nutrients from the bloodstream and provides lubrication for the joint. The synovial fluid also acts as a shock absorber as does the articular cartilage.

The main components of both articular cartilage and synovial fluid are glycosaminoglycans or GAGS, which are very large protein molecules such as chondroitin and hyaluronic acid (hyaluronate). These form a coiled structure that creates the ‘shock absorber’ affect. In order to maintain healthy joints, it is important to maximise the quantity of these within the joint.

Joint Issues in Horses

The main reason for joint damage is inflammation, which occurs in response to general wear and tear or injury. Inflammation changes the composition of synovial fluid and introduces lots of destructive enzymes into the joint. This eventually damages the lubricating GAGs and the cartilage becomes damaged eventually exposing the bone. The bone responds, trying to protect itself but this only causes more damage and a vicious circle ensues. The bone lays down more new bone resulting in the formation of bone spurs which cause friction and problems with flexion of the joint.

Common Ingredients in Horse Supplements for Joints

A Horse and Hound Survey conducted in 2017 found that joint supplements for horses were the most popular type of supplement used which indicates it is a common problem for horse owners. There are a range of ingredients used in horse supplements for joints with varying efficacy. The following are those that are most commonly used.


Chondroitin is a structural component of cartilage, which is the tissue that cushions joints. Chondroitin sulphate is a very large molecule and there is some question as to whether the molecule is too large to pass across the intestinal wall. When it is broken down in the gut the smaller molecules can cross the intestinal wall but in this form it is suggested that it is not going to protect the joint in the same way as it would when it is in the form of a GAG. However, some research has demonstrated that chondroitin sulphate has anti-inflammatory effects comparable to NSAIDs (Bute) and has also been demonstrated to impact upon the damaging enzyme reactions within the joint and so it does have its advocates.

As the effects of the small molecular weight molecules of chondroitin sulphate are questionable it is fairly unusual to find a chondroitin sulphate as a single supplement and more often it is found in conjunction with other ingredients such as glucosamine.


Like chondroitin, glucosamine is also a structural component of cartilage. It is either found as glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine-HCL in supplements. Glucosamine is a much smaller molecule than chondroitin sulphate and passes through the intestinal wall intact. Glucosamine is the rate-limiting factor in the production of GAGs. This means that in order for sufficient GAGs to be present in the joint there must be enough glucosamine to facilitate their production.


Methyl sulfonyl methane for horses, frequently referred to as MSM, is also commonly fed to promote joint health and is a bio-available form of sulphur. The sulphur that MSM supplies is a key component of collagen and keratin. Collagen is found in tissues such as muscle, tendons and ligaments as well as being the major component in bone and cartilage.

Like most minerals, supplying sufficient sulphur in the diet is important for good general health. There is however, no evidence that providing above what is required, will have a beneficial effect – some is good but more isn’t necessarily better! MSM for horses is therefore useful for maintaining healthy joints due to its structural role in collagen. MSM horse supplements  or MSM added to feeds is therefore about supplying sulphur which can also have benefits for horse hoof support too.

Joint Supplements in Dengie Feeds

We often get calls to the Dengie Feedline asking what the best joint supplement for horses is and which of the Dengie products would be beneficial for horses with joint issues. There is a wide range of supplements on the market with varying ingredients, levels and feeding rates. Although there isn’t a specific joint supplement in the Dengie range, Dengie Healthy Hooves Molasses Free contains added MSM for both hoof support and joint health.

For more information on joint supplements for horses and how to manage healthy joints or for help and advice on all aspects of feeding call the Dengie Feedline: 01621 841188 or complete our Feed Advice Form.