from the Vet Corner Archives

Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 02/05/99; 2:00:00PM.


Veterinary Corner 2/99: The Arthritis Drug - Adequan

by Frosty Franklin, DVM
Edgecliff Equine Hospital
S. 1322 Park Road, Spokane, WA 99212 * 509/924-6069


Just as advances in human medicine have allowed people to live longer, more active lives, advances in equine medicine have allowed our equine companions to live longer, more productive lives. Though Adequan has been around for some time, it is being used more and more often as a viable treatment option for horses with arthritis. Many clients ask me about this drug. What is it? How does it work? Should I consider this treatment for my horse as a preventative measure or should I use it only if my horse has been diagnosed with arthritis?

Before looking specifically at Adequan, a brief overview of joint anatomy and arthritis is necessary. A joint is a place of union between 2 or more bones of the skeleton. Where these bones articulate (come together), they are lined with articular cartilage and surrounded by a membrane called the synovial membrane. This membrane produces synovial fluid which combined with the articular cartilage, provides a cushion and lubrication for the joint, protecting the joint from damage due to the forces regularly placed on the skeleton. Arthritis is inflammation in the joint characterized by pain, swelling, and heat. Chronic inflammation in a joint can lead to a degeneration of the protective articular cartilage. These definitions will help you understand what Adequan is and how it works.

Adequan is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan similar to the glycosaminoglycans that make up the articular cartilage matrix lining joints. Unlike drugs that only deal with the symptoms of arthritis by reducing pain and swelling, Adequan is in a class of arthritis treatments that are considered to alter the progression of degenerative joint disease. This type of drug is also called "disease modifying."

Thus far, researchers have been unable to determine exactly how Adequan works. There are many possibilities being explored. Adequan may inhibit many of the enzymes that degrade articular cartilage, thus slowing the degeneration of the joint. Also, Adequan may have an anti-inflammatory effect. It may even stimulate the formation of hyaluronic acid and glycosaminoglycans, both of which are necessary for healthy joint function. Another theory includes that the drug has a positive effect on synovial cells. In all likelihood, Adequan works using a combination of the proposed mechanisms, alleviating pain and discomfort in the horse's joints and allowing greater mobility.

As mentioned earlier, Adequan alters the progression of degenerative joint disease. This statement does not imply that it prevents degenerative joint disease from starting in the first place. Thus, I only recommend this product for horses that have been diagnosed with an arthritic condition that would benefit from the "disease modifying" capabilities of Adequan. As more research is done, scientists may discover that Adequan indeed does prevent degenerative joint disease, in which case I will change my recommendations. However, at this time, research does not support this use of Adequan.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon surrounding Adequan. People assume that if it is good for their friend's horse who was a little stiff, it must be good for their horse who is a little stiff. The only problem with this approach lies in the fact that what makes your friend's horse stiff may not be what is making your horse stiff. For this reason, it is important to have a good relationship with your veterinarian as he or she is an invaluable resource concerning the health of your horse. If you suspect your horse is not quite right, consult your veterinarian who can make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Warmest Regards and Happy Trails,

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