Chronic Inflammation in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

An important part of the body’s defense system is inflammation. When an injury or illness attacks the body, inflammation makes a barrier against infection and helps get rid of infection that has already started.

In some cases, the system that causes inflammation can be too active and do more harm than good. Chronic inflammation in people can be caused by things like autoimmune diseases, exposure to toxins, and acute inflammation that is not treated. Research is starting to show that horses also go through these same steps.

Signs that a horse has long-term inflammation
These things could be signs of chronic inflammation:

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction or Cushing’s Syndrome (PPID)



Poor healing

Why horses have long-term inflammation

Chronic inflammation in horses seems to be most often caused by obesity, just like it is in people. Insulin problems, which can lead to EMS and PPID, are made worse by being overweight. In turn, these conditions cause even more inflammation and can lead to bouts of laminitis.

Some breeds, like ponies and draft horses, seem to be more likely to get fat and get sick from it.

Other things, like autoimmunity and exposure to toxins, are much less common and not as well studied or understood in horses.

How vets figure out if a horse has long-term inflammation
Your vet can start looking for signs of chronic inflammation in your horse by giving it a physical exam once a year and taking its blood regularly. They will look for signs of EMS and PPID and look at your horse’s body condition score (BCS).

If your vet thinks you might have EMS or PPID, they can do more blood tests, such as an ACTH stimulation test or an Oral Sugar test.

If your horse is starting to show signs of laminitis, a vet can do a lameness exam and radiographs to find out what’s wrong.

How to Treat Horses with Chronic Inflammation
Since obesity seems to be one of the main causes of chronic inflammation in horses, one of the most common treatments is to change the horse’s diet and exercise routine.

Once EMS or PPID has been found, it may be helpful to try other treatments. Prascend is often given to people with PPID. Horses with EMS may benefit from Thyro-L, low-sugar diets, and other supplements.

Anti-inflammatory drugs like Bute (phenylbutazone), Banamine (flunixin meglumine), and Equioxx (firocoxib) can help reduce inflammation in the body. These drugs are especially helpful for horses with laminitis and osteoarthritis. Support can also come from using the right shoes and taking care of the hooves.

How horses get better from and deal with long-term inflammation
Even though the best way to treat chronic inflammation is to stop it from happening in the first place, if chronic inflammation has led to a secondary disease, it’s important to take medications and eat the way your veterinarian tells you to.

How to Keep Horses from Getting Chronic Inflammation

Diet and exercise are two of the most important ways to help stop chronic inflammation.

FAQs about Chronic Inflammation in Horses

How long does it take for inflammation that doesn’t go away to heal?

Since chronic inflammation and all of its causes are not fully understood, it is hard to say if it will heal or how long it will take. Each case is different. The best way to deal with it is to try not to let it happen in the first place.

What should horses eat to keep their bodies from hurting?

Diets that are low in sugar and help you lose weight are the main parts of an anti-inflammatory diet.


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