It is nice to have a properly stocked medicine chest from which you can provide first aid to your horse in time of need. One desirable ingredient to the list of helpful pharmaceuticals includes one or more types of pain-relieving medications. In all cases, these drugs must be locked out of reach of children, pets and people other than yourself. The drugs should also be stored in a dark environment with an appropriate temperature (not hot, not cold) that maximizes stability and storage longevity.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Until generic forms became available, this medication has been commonly referred to by its trade name Banamine. It is a useful drug to have on hand for colic, intestinal dysfunction, eye inflammation, laminitis and many other instances of pain, swelling and lameness.
Some precautions should be considered when using it for colic pain:
- Oral administration is associated with a lag time of 4-6 hours to achieve peak effects, and longer if intestinal motility is diminished.
- Given to a dehydrated horse, it has the potential to elicit gastric or colonic ulcer disease or kidney damage.
- Although labeled for intramuscular use, that route of administration has the potential to precipitate a life-threatening infection from Clostridial bacteria.
- Given at the recommended therapeutic dose, it can mask a surgical colic. Instead, the most given at one time should be one-quarter of the maximum recommended musculoskeletal dose.
Phenylbutazone, ketoprofen and meloxicam are also excellent non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications that have similar therapeutic properties as flunixin. The precautions mentioned above for flunixin should also be considered for these medications.
Firocoxib is a powerful analgesic that is commonly used for chronic pain and osteoarthritis. Until recently, horse owners have been using the canine tablet form (Previcox) of firocoxib off label but now the equine formulation of the oral tablet is available, called Equioxx, labeled specifically for horses. The benefits of firocoxib are that it is primarily a COX-2 inhibitor in the prostaglandin cycle so tends to be more protective of the beneficial prostaglandins (PGE2, for example) than the other NSAIDs. PGE2 is responsible for many protective functions of the intestinal lining.
While not considered strictly as an analgesic, corticosteroids do exert pain-relieving properties. Examples include dexamethasone and prednisolone. These should be used under veterinarian advisement due to the potential for unwanted side effects.
Sedatives work also as excellent painkillers. One of these alpha-2 agonists (detomidine) is now formulated in an oral paste under the trade name Dormosedan gel. This product is administered under a horse’s tongue to achieve sedation and pain-relieving effects within 20-30 minutes. This makes it easy to give and relatively safe to use. Many sedatives, including detomidine, should not be used in horses with heart problems, respiratory, vascular or kidney disease. Follow manufacturer and your veterinarian’s instructions on dosing amount.
Butorphanol is a non-narcotic opioid that is administered intravenously (IV) or intramuscularly (IM) to relieve pain. This drug must be used under veterinary supervision. It should be noted that as an opioid it has the potential to diminish intestinal motility.
A topical non-steroidal cream, diclofenac sodium, is labeled as Surpass specifically for horses. It is applied to an area of inflammation, such as over a joint or tendon, to relieve pain and inflammation. Gloves should be worn when applying this drug.
The Bottom Line
In all cases, even though you may have some of these medications on hand, please contact your veterinarian before administering any analgesic drugs to your horse. Your vet can provide the best suggestion of which product to use for the particular problem you want to address as well as how much to give and for how long. These decisions are best individualized for every horse.
Editor's note: This is the third in a series of analgesic use in horses. To find the other articles search Articles>Equine Health in the drop-down navigation menu on the top of any page.