A Spice that Relieves Arthritis and Itching


Dr Juliet Getty PhD

Doug English B.V.Sc (In photo)

Ever hear of Curcumin?  It’s the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, which has been used for centuries in Indian cooking as well as in Ayurvedic medicine. It exhibits anti-oxidant properties (neutralizing damaging free radicals), and has been used to treat a long list of conditions, including diarrhea, respiratory infections, dermatitis, and even cancerous tumors.

Most notably, curcumin reduces inflammation and pain due to its ability to inhibit the cyclooxygenase enzyme 2 (COX-2), while maintaining COX-1 enzymatic function. That’s good news, because the COX-1 enzyme protects your horse’s stomach lining. COX-2 inhibition is a far better route to take for pain control. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as phenylbutazone (bute) are most commonly used to relieve pain. But these inhibit not only COX-2 enzymes, but also the beneficial COX-1 enzymes. Firocoxib (known as Equioxx for horses and Previcox for dogs) is an NSAID that only inhibits the COX-2 enzyme, offering a safer option for horse owners. But, curcumin supplementation is a natural approach that can be highly effective and far less costly.

Osteoarthritis is a common source of pain for horses. This disease is characterized by a progressive deterioration of joint cartilage, making it less able to protect the joint against friction. The underlying cause of pain is due to a release of cytokines and reactive oxygen species — inflammatory substances that can lead to further degradation of joint tissue. There are many joint supplements on the market designed to slow down cartilage loss, increase production of lubricating synovial fluid, and reduce pain. Curcumin is not typically added to these joint supplement preparations. Furthermore, it can be a natural alternative to intra-articular hyaluronic acid or polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PGAG) injections.

What is Turmeric/Curcumin?

Turmeric is derived from the underground stems (rhizomes) of the plant Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. It has the familiar yellow color of Indian curry and American mustard. Curcumin is the biologically active phytochemical found in turmeric. Chemically known as diferuloylmethane, with a molecular formula C21H20O6, it has been shown to have dramatic health benefits. Most research involving curcumin has been done with humans. However, researchers1 from the United Kingdom and Germany recently revealed that curcumin significantly reduces the inflammatory pathways found in horses suffering from osteoarthritis. Thomas Schell, DVM has also done extensive research2 on the use of curcumin’s therapeutic action on equine osteoarthritis. Using Quarter Horses, Morgans, Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and Paso Finos, all with varying degrees of lameness from degenerative arthritis, he found improvement when comparing lameness scores before and after administration of a nutritional formula containing curcumin, as well as vitamins E and C.

Safety and Dosage

With humans, dosages as high as 12 grams per day3 for a three-month period, have been shown to be safe. For longer-term supplementation, 500 mgs per day is more readily accepted. This amounts to ¼ teaspoon of turmeric.

An appropriate dosage for horses has not been established, though one tablespoon per day works well as a maintenance dose. If diarrhea or changes in appetite occur, discontinue use. Do not administer NSAIDS along with turmeric or curcumin-containing compounds. Also, keep in mind that turmeric slows blood clotting and therefore, should be discontinued if you are planning any surgical procedures.

Personal experience

My Off-the-Track Thoroughbred suffers from osteochondral fragments (bone chips) in his fetlock joint. Originally treated with a low dose of bute, along with lecithin4 to prevent gastric ulcers, I switched to feeding turmeric at a dosage of two tablespoons per day. I kept feeding lecithin as a precaution. He is doing just as well as he did with bute, and his limping has not returned. He runs in the pasture with ease. After two months on this two-tablespoon, therapeutic dose, I have decreased it to one tablespoon per day and will soon reduce it further, relying on more only as-needed. I have found it to be palatable and easy to mix with feeds.


Take a look at what curcumin has to offer. Turmeric is easy to get in bulk at whole food stores, or on line. It may just be the extra ingredient your horse needs to be comfortable and pain-free.


1 Clutterbuck, A.L., Mobasheri, A., Shakibaei, M., Allaway, D., and Harris, P., 2009.  Interleukin-1B-Induced extracellular matrix degradation and glycosaminoglycan release is inhibited by curcumin in an explant model of cartilage inflammation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1171, 428-435.

2 Schell, T. 2009. A promising natural therapy for equine osteoarthritis. Journal of the American Holistic Medical Association, 28(1), 11-15.

3 Goel, A., Kunnumakkara, A.B., & Aggarwal, B.B. 2008. Curcumin as “Curecumin”: from kitchen to clinic. Biochem. Pharmacol. 75(4), 787-809.

4 Getty, J.M. 2013. Lecithin inhibits bute-related ulcers. Getty Equine Nutrition, LLC.

About Dr Juliet Getty

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an internationally respected, independent equine nutritionist who believes that optimizing horse health comes from understanding how the horse’s physiology and instincts determine the correct feeding and nutrition practices. She appears regularly in equestrian publications and is available for private consultations and speaking engagements

Contact Dr Getty at www.gettyequinenutrition.biz


Doug English and his Turmeric Users Group (TUG)

Doug English B.V.Sc graduated as a Veterinary Surgeon in 1974. Described by his colleagues as having a keen mind and an irreverent sense of humour, Doug started the Turmeric Users Group to collate information on animals being treated with turmeric. It now encompasses over 50,000 humans (!) and spans the world with membership.

TUG on Turmeric…

Turmeric has a long history of use in both Indian and Chinese traditional medicine. It has also been used as a textile dye – as anyone who’s spilt a yellow curry on his or her clothes can appreciate!

Potent therapeutic properties are attributed to the vivid yellow-orange pigment (curcumin) that is present in turmeric.  It is powerfully antioxidant (significantly more so than vitamin E or C) and this ability to neutralise free radicals before they damage healthy cells and cell membranes, in conjunction with its anti-inflammatory effects (via a number of pathways), contribute to its role in preventing or alleviating an impressive array of conditions. These include many cancers, arthritis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, liver ailments and Alzheimer’s.

Turmeric is very useful in reducing inflammation particularly with arthritis and itchy skin. I Doug English have been using it for several years both for animal patients and myself. I have seen very positive results in my patients for allergic dermatitis, atopy, Queensland Itch in horses, arthritis in both dogs and horses, irritant bowel disease, increased athletic ability in myself and racehorses (turmeric is classified as a food and does not swab), and general health overall.

Both dogs and horses accept turmeric well. To greatly increase the metabolic effect (the absorption of turmeric into your body) add a dash of cracked pepper (pepper also does not swab for racing) and some oil like olive, coconut, or linseed (these are the best oils because they are higher in omega 3 oils and have less omega 6 components which tend to increase inflammation). At present we are trialing turmeric on cats to see if it can be formulated in such a way to get them to eat it.

For dog and human consumption: put turmeric onto wet food – 1/4 to 2 teaspoons OR put the amount into a mug, add a dash of cracked black pepper (supplies very beneficial antioxidants, and markedly increases the metabolism of the curcumin in turmeric) plus a dessertspoon of the before mentioned oil (this enhances the absorption and also increases benefits to skin and brain health); to a 1/3 mug boiled hot water, let sit for several minutes then top up with milk or soup to make it more palatable. So far I have seen no problems and use this method for also treating irritant bowel disease.

For horses – add a tablespoon of turmeric to a cup, add cracked pepper and some oil to wet food. Just about every horse I know loves it and as far as gut acceptance goes there is very little difference to foods like pellets or grains. Personally I have seen no problems at all and do not suspect any, after all turmeric is a vegetable food not a drug!

If you would like more information on using Turmeric check out the discussion site on Facebook called “Turmeric User Group”

The notes I have provided below have been largely extracted from human medical research but apply as well to all mammals, and maybe birds too but I have not investigated them yet.

ARTHRITIS: Curcumin inhibits the breakdown of cartilage and has been shown in some studies to be as effective as hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone (bute) in relieving the symptoms of arthritis such as inflammation, swelling and joint stiffness.  Even better, it does so without the significant side-effects of those drugs, and has been shown to be safe at very large doses.

CANCER: Curcumin defends the body against cancer via a number of actions: it detoxifies carcinogens thereby preventing the initiation of cancer cells; suppresses the progression of cancerous cells by inhibiting their proliferation while simultaneously increasing their death and removal; and inhibits the spread of cancerous cells to other areas of the body.  It can also reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment and enhance the action of some chemotherapy agents.  Various studies have demonstrated either turmeric (as a whole food or extract) or curcumin/curcuminoids (as isolates) to have beneficial results in preventing or treating a wide range of cancers.  These include skin, ovarian, breast, lung, oral, stomach, liver, colon and prostate cancers.

LIVER FUNCTION: Turmeric has a hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) action.  That is, it both prevents and repairs liver damage.  It protects the liver from inflammation and improves ‘the clearing function of the liver when it has been damaged.’1

GASTROINTESTINAL TRACT: In vitro studies have shown extracts of turmeric and curcumin inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori a bacterium associated with both gastric & duodenal ulcer formation and gastric & colon cancers.  Other studies have indicated that turmeric (at appropriate doses) can enhance the healing of gastric ulcers via an increase in gastric wall mucus production.  Further, turmeric has been shown to have an antispasmodic effect on the gastro-intestinal tract.  In addition, turmeric and curcumin have been investigated and found to be protective against Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

CARDIOVASCULAR EFFECTS: Curcumin improves the liver’s ability to clear the body of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol), and increases the proportion of HDL (‘good’ cholesterol).  In addition it prevents the oxidation of both LDL and HDL (oxidised cholesterol leads to blood vessel damage and plaque build up that can result in heart attack or stroke).

DIABETIC animals fed curcumin not only had a significant reduction of blood cholesterol levels (LDL fraction) but also of blood triglycerides and phospholipids (elevated levels of both are associated with the disturbed lipid metabolism characteristic of diabetes).

Turmeric is a good source of VITAMIN B6, a high intake of which is associated with a lowered risk of heart disease.

Curcumin exhibits ANTICOAGULANT effects – allowing blood to flow correctly and inhibiting abnormal blood clot formation (thrombosis).

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE: In addition to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection turmeric/curcumin affords against neurodegenerative diseases, curcumin has been shown, after crossing the blood-brain barrier, to inhibit formation of the plaques between neurons (nerve cells) that disrupt brain function.

As well as all the above, turmeric has demonstrated the ability to suppress cataract development, promote wound healing and have a topical anti-fungal effect.  It is an excellent source of iron and manganese, and a good source of vitamin B6 and potassium. Anyone sceptical that their horse would consume a curry-flavoured feed can take comfort from a study which investigated flavour preferences in horses.  Turmeric was accepted by all horses in the study (although fenugreek won out as the favourite flavour). ACTIONS: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, carminative, chemopreventive, antimicrobial, depurative (“blood purifying”), hepatoprotective, antithrombotic.

CAUTION:  If major surgery is planned high doses of turmeric should be avoided during the week prior, due to the possible increased risk of bleeding as a result of antiplatelet activity. In some people may interfere with iron absorption and exacerbate anaemia


DRUG INTERACTION:  Theoretically, high doses of turmeric could have an additive effect when combined with antiplatelet or anticoagulant medication; other interactions are possible and if a consumer is taking drugs for a health issue, proper research and consultation with the prescriber should occur.

The above material is for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as personalised advice for individual horses. Carry out your own due diligence. If you are concerned about your horse’s health or diet in any way contact your vet and a qualified nutritionist.


Check out Turmeric Users Group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/415313751866609/