When to Use Analgesic in Horses

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Whether your horse is an athlete that incurs aches and pains associated with training and competition, or he is an older horse in its golden, creaky years, analgesic medications play an important role in keeping our horses comfortable and moving as freely as possible. Using analgesics as pain relievers is akin to us using a drug like ibuprofen to settle down a nagging body ache.

Credit: Amy Dragoo it is important to consult with your veterinarian before giving your horse any kind of pain relieving medication. There are often unwanted side effects associated with such powerful drugs.

Credit: Amy Dragoo it is important to consult with your veterinarian before giving your horse any kind of pain relieving medication. There are often unwanted side effects associated with such powerful drugs.

It is important to note that analgesics don’t necessarily fix the source of the problem. They serve as a palliative by relieving pain or alleviating a problem without addressing the underlying cause. What some products (anti-prostaglandins) do is break the pain cycle caused by prostaglandin release associated with inflammation; other products (sedatives and opioids) act to block pain reception through the central nervous system.

What are some instances where a horse may benefit from a dose of a pain reliever? The list is long, but the most common reasons for horses to need pain relief come from:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Traumatic injury
  • Colic pain
  • Eye inflammation
  • Post-surgery
  • Laminitis

How do you determine when to use painkillers? Your horse’s attitude and demeanor can speak volumes as to his level of discomfort. Changes in behavior or postural cues give clues that a horse is experiencing distress. Pain usually incurs an elevation in heart rate above the normal rate of 32-40 beats per minute. Appetite is often diminished in a painful horse. If pain is significant enough, the horse may fail to interact with other horses and/or may be insensitive to normal environmental stimuli. 

Administration of pain relievers can help a horse to feel better. With that relief, a horse takes better care of himself, turning back to feed and water to maintain body condition. He’ll also move around more rather than just standing listlessly in a corner of the paddock or pasture.

In all cases, it is important to consult with your veterinarian before giving your horse any kind of pain relieving medication. There are often unwanted side effects associated with such powerful drugs.

Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series on analgesic use in horses being published on StableManagement.com in January. To find the other two articles (which will be published by January 16), search Articles>Equine Health in the top navigation menu on any page.

Caption: This horse, experiencing chronic throbbing pain from navicular disease, is standing with the painful limb pointed out in front of his body to relieve the pressure, and with a typical deflated posture. Credit: Nancy S. Loving, DVM