When you think “inflammation” your first thoughts probably have a negative connotation, but it is not always a bad thing.
Inflammation is the immune system’s natural defense mechanism when something has caused bodily harm, such as infection, injury, or toxins.
To simplify, inflammation is part of the body’s normal immune response and natural healing process.
Inflammation becomes problematic when it becomes chronic. Some examples of chronic inflammation include conditions like osteoarthritis or equine metabolic syndrome, and these detrimental diseases often require some form of intervention.
The Inflammatory Response Process
The inflammatory process begins with acute inflammation, which typically lasts between 1-3 days and is characterized by the 5 classic signs of inflammation:
- Loss of Function
From there, the affected tissue enters the subacute inflammation phase, which can last from 3 days up to four weeks. This time period is when the body works to clean out dead cells and also repair damaged cells.
If the body cannot move through the subacute phase on its own (or with the help of anti-inflammatory supplements/medications), tissue may begin degenerating and chronic inflammation sets in.
NSAIDs for Horses: What Can You Give a Horse for Inflammation
NSAIDs is short for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and they are likely in your barn at this very moment, maybe without you even knowing!
Certain equine NSAIDs such as phenylbutazone (bute) or Flunixin Meglumine (Banamine) can be used short term for acute inflammation pain in order to make your horse more comfortable, but these drugs should not be relied on long term, as extended use can lead to adverse health issues, especially in the gut.
NSAIDs are COX-1 inhibitors, which means that they significantly reduce the function of the enzyme responsible for protecting the stomach’s mucosal lining. So while COX-1 inhibiting NSAIDs can reduce inflammation, over-reliance on these drugs can lead to colic, intestinal bleeding, or ulcers (1). No thanks!
The Best Anti-Inflammatory for Horses: Alternatives to Bute
With all the nasty side effects associated with NSAIDs, natural anti-inflammatories for horses are of interest to the progressive equine owner and manager.
Some types of probiotics, such as S. boulardii, can help manage inflammation due to their ability to down-regulate pro-inflammatory cytokines, the proteins that lead to activation of immune cells and production, as well as the release of further cytokines (which can cause what is known as a “cytokine storm”).
Other beneficial bacteria found in probiotics can have an impact on inflammation as well, possibly reducing common biomarkers present with inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP) (2).
Likewise, joint inflammation (such as that occurring with equine osteoarthritis in many performance horses) is often connected to inflammation within the intestinal tract, which leads to increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). As you many know from our previous posts, probiotics play a major role in solving this problem (2).
If you suspect your horse has inflammation, talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible and devise a management plan that includes gut health support to keep your horse happy and healthy in the long-run.