EleFact Friday: Osteoarthritis in Elephants

We recently shared that Bambi is experiencing some stiffness in her leg and received a few questions about how joint issues in elephants compare to other species, and even humans. In previous EleFacts, we’ve talked about the anatomy behind elephant limbs: their bodies are designed to withstand long periods of walking and traveling. However, osteoarthritis is often seen in captive elephants (as well as humans and companion animals) as the most common form of arthritis. It is often found that these problems persist more often in the front limbs, which bear more body weight and carry a heavier load compared to the back limbs. 

Osteoarthritis (or OA) is a major cause of joint pain, inflammation, and loss of mobility due to the progressive deterioration of articular cartilage and loss of lubrication between joints. In humans, it can greatly affect load-bearing joints like the knees and hips. In elephants, the cases are similar: contributing factors that cause OA include excessive weight gain, walking and running on hard surfaces, and lack of physical activity. It makes sense that elephants in captivity may experience some form of arthritis in their lifetime, as these factors are part of their daily lives. As with humans or even companion animals, adding more exercise, movement, and appropriate environments into the lives of the elephants can certainly help in aiding a wide variety of joint issues or limb pain. We’re grateful for the opportunity to provide plenty of space for the sanctuary residents to stretch their limbs after years in captivity. You can see the benefits in elephants like Guillermina, who you have seen flourish after being given appropriate space and encouragement to move her body and explore the habitats far and wide. 

As for Bambi, we don’t have much of an update to share. She is receiving topical treatment and we’re keeping a close eye on the stiffness in her leg. But this could end up being a permanent issue for her. Still, she is happily hanging out with her sanctuary sisters and doesn’t seem to be too hindered. 

Photo of Bambi


  1. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Rana has adjusted quite well with her fused elbow she looks like it’s hard for her to maneuver around but she’s keeping up just fine with her sisters as I’m sure Bambi will too. With this oustanding crew at the Sanctuary all these girls will be able to overcome and adapt to anything that comes there way! Thank you all for your hard work and dedication to these beautiful gentle loving intelligent girls they are all so very special 💞

  2. REPLY
    Carey says

    Hello, out of interest what topical meds do you use?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      many different ones, dependent upon the issues. almost any type of horse product you have seen, we use.

  3. REPLY
    Audrey says

    I guess Bambi & I have something in common, we both have Osteoporosis in our knees.
    My heart ❤️ is with her.

  4. REPLY
    Audrey says

    I meant Osteoarthritis, duh

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says


  5. REPLY
    Diane Kastel says

    Although it would be expensive, isn’t there some kind of lazar, therapy for “Bambi” instead of, only, the, topical, treatments!

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      not according to the specialists we have spoken to. anything that could make a substantial difference would require sedation. and she is 59 years old.

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