An important part of being a responsible horse owner is dealing with the inevitable injuries and illnesses even the healthiest of horses pick up during their lifetimes. Giving your horse medicine is towards the bottom of enjoyable things to do with your equine friend. But you must do it if you want them to make a speedy recovery.
Read our quick guide to the common equine medicines you’ll need, how to store them and top tips on administering them.
From arranging insurance for horses to feeding, mucking out and grooming, there are lots of little jobs you may feel like putting off until tomorrow. But that’s a big mistake, as you never know when a mishap could occur and you’ll need insurance. Contact the experienced team at Equesure and get your horse protected now.
Common types of equine medicines and what they do
When you’ve had a visit from the vet there’ll come a time when you're the one left holding the medical kit after they leave. This can be a worrying moment indeed, but we’re here to help. The team at Equesure have put together this list of some of the most commonly administered medications you may have to use.
After all, if you’re to manage your horse’s treatment safely and effectively you need at least a basic knowledge of the main drug categories, what they’re used for and common issues to look out for.
If you have any further questions, call your vet to clarify. Just like arranging horse insurance, the professionals are there to answer your questions and put your mind at rest. For all your equine insurance needs give the specialists at Equesure a call.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are undoubtedly one of the most used horse medications you’ll come across. They do a brilliant job at controlling inflammation and pain from injury, just like paracetamol or ibuprofen do for humans.
But be careful, NSAIDs can mask lameness, so shouldn’t be used without a vet checking for soundness. You don’t want your trusty steed making an existing injury worse or causing further injury when they should be resting.
The most commonly used NSAIDs in horses are flunixin meglumine, phenylbutazone (more commonly known as bute), oxibuzone and meloxicam. All come in a granular, liquid or paste form that can be added to feed or syringed into the mouth.
Side effects can include stomach ulcers, colon ulcers, diarrhoea, and kidney disease. Specialist horse hospital Bell Equine advises that if your horse shows colic signs, has loose droppings, stops eating or you notice a change in drinking or urination, stop the medication and contact your vet.
The development of antibiotics has saved countless millions of lives in both the human and animal worlds. There really is no better way to fight infection-causing bacteria both internally and externally than through the timely use of antibiotics.
They come in many forms depending on how they are to be administered. Liquids, pastes, and powders are perfect for adding to feed or they can be administered by mouth, while topical creams and sprays are great for external wounds. Sometimes a vet may even prescribe an injectable form.
The most common antibiotics you’ll come across in the UK are penicillin, doxycycline, trimethoprim sulfa (TMPS) and enrofloxacin.
The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) says they should only be used after a culture has been performed alongside sensitivity testing. They are strictly prescription-only, so a vet will need to see the horse.
BEVA produces informative leaflets on medicines such as doxycycline to answer many of the most commonly asked questions.
Sedatives and tranquilizers
Often used to help with some medical or grooming procedures, or even to calm horses at other difficult times.
Fast acting sedatives such as xylazine are given by way of an intravenous injection in order to cause sleepiness, relax muscles, decrease excitement, and reduce responsiveness to most stimuli, including pain. With increasing doses deeper sedation will be achieved.
If a vet wishes to produce a quieting or calming effect without changing the level of consciousness, then a tranquilizer may be used such as acepromazine.
There are four main classes of anthelmintics used to ensure specific parasites are targeted at specific times. These are:
- Benzimidazoles such as fenbendazole or mebendazole.
- Tetrahydropyrimidines such as pyrantel embonate and pyrantel tartrate.
- Macrocyclic lactones such as ivermectins or avermectins.
- Praziquantel-based wormers for tapeworms only.
To decrease the chances of resistance developing, it’s important to change the class of wormer used after each grazing season.
There’s a lot more information on horse worming programmes to be found on the Keeping Britain’s Horses Healthy website. If you want to know how a faecal worm egg count could help your horse then it will tell you – and a whole lot more!
Antipyretics are medicines that lower body temperature and reduce fever. Medicines such as ketoprofen are also used as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs particularly for musculoskeletal and abdominal pain.
Gastric ulcer medication
Recent studies have shown an alarmingly high number of UK horses suffer from gastric ulcers. Up to 37% of leisure horses, 63% of performance horses, 93% of race horses and nearly 50% of foals are affected.
The most prescribed treatment is omeprazole, which works by reducing the production of acid from the lining of the stomach. Treatment usually lasts for between two and four weeks, giving the ulcers adequate time to heal as part of an overall treatment programme.
Also called bronchodilators, these medications relax and open constricted airways inside the lungs to help the horse breath more easily. They also increase the speed at which mucus is cleared from the airways. Clenbuterol is commonly used and given either intravenously or orally.
If higher doses are given, sweating, trembling and elevated heart rate might happen. It’s not usually used long term as horses can become resistant to its effects. While it provides useful short term relief, it won’t deal with the underlying problem.
These heavy-duty inflammation busters are called in to deal with a wide range of medical scenarios. They can help slow degenerative joint diseases, reduce lung inflammation, help manage shock, spinal cord injuries and anaphylactic reactions.
They might also be prescribed to counter allergic reactions, skin infections and eye problems such as conjunctivitis and uveitis. Two of the most commonly prescribed corticosteroids are dexamethasone and prednisone.
Safe storage for equine medicines
Any of these medicines play a vital role in effective horse care. And as such must be stored safely and correctly to ensure effectiveness. There are a few important matters to consider when storing medications to ensure you don’t do more harm than good!
- Keep everything clean and tidy – A sealed container will be far more likely to keep medicines well organised and in tip-top condition.
- Check the environment – Tack rooms are not known for their consistent temperature and humidity. They tend to be cold in winter and hot in summer. These temperature and humidity changes can play havoc with medicine effectiveness and safety. By all means keep some emergency supplies nearby, but keep your main medicine kit in a better location.
- Check the label – As well as making sure you store the medicines correctly, you’ll also need to keep a good eye on expiry dates. Never take the risk with your horse’s health – discard old medicines and buy a new supply.
- Does it look right? A change in a medication's appearance will mean it’s probably time to get a replacement.
- Keep everything secure – While it’s unlikely a child will be walking around your horse yard unsupervised, it’s still important any medicines are stored well away from curious hands.
Top tips and tricks for giving medication by mouth
We all know horses are beautiful, gentle creatures. But getting a horse to take their medication can prove a big challenge for even the calmest of owners!
However, administering the right dosage of medicine has to be done if you want your horse to stay healthy. Here are some sneaky tricks for getting your horse to take their medicine no matter how picky they are!
Tip 1 Disguise the flavour
Pharmaceutical companies know many of their medicines don’t taste exactly appetising. That’s why they’ll often flavour their oral medications with popular flavours like apple, orange or carrot. If this is still not enough to disguise the taste in your horse’s feed then try adding carrot slices, sugar-free apple sauce, or even delicious molasses.
Tip 2 Grind up those pills
You might think a handy pill or two would be easy to sneak into your horse’s mouth, but you’d be wrong. Owing to their size and the quantity that must be given they can often be difficult to hide.
Try gently crushing them with a pestle and mortar and then adding the powder to feed. Just don’t forget those added tasty treats to disguise the flavour.
Tip 3 Make it sticky
If you’re putting powdered medication into your horse’s feed, then make sure the powder is well mixed in and sticks well to the feed. Perhaps wet the feed before placing the medication on it or add in some molasses as a delicious but sticky treat.
Tip 4 Check your bucket
Some horses like to throw their feed bucket around and this can be a problem when giving medicine. Consider firmly attaching the bucket to the wall so the medication is not thrown out. And don’t forget to check the bucket to make sure no medication is left behind!
Tip 5 Sneaky pill pockets
If you only need to give one or two pills then you might get away with using a pill pocket. Either buy them specially made from tack and feed suppliers, or make your own. Simply carve out a carrot or break off a piece of banana and pop the pill inside. Just make sure it’s something they love.
Tip 6 Get the dosing syringe technique just right
Dosing syringes come in various different sizes and should be a mainstay in your horse’s medical kit. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting the technique just right.
- Check the dosage. You don’t want to give your horse too much or too little.
- If using powder or pills it’s important to check they’re fully dissolved before use.
- Make sure your horse’s mouth is empty. If there’s feed or grass in there then it’s easier for them to spit the medicine out.
- Face the same way as your horse.
- Wrap your arm around their nose to stop them from lifting their head.
- Gently part the lips at the corner of your horse’s mouth and slide the syringe in.
- Place the syringe far enough into the mouth so that they try to chew.
- Point the syringe upwards and empty it into the mouth.
- Lift up the horse’s head to help them swallow.
- Give them a tasty treat so they associate the experience with something positive.
Practice, patience and persistence
Giving oral medications is a tricky exercise. Practice, patience and persistence will boost your chances of success. If you’re at the end of your tether give your vet a call, they might be able to give you a demo or at least offer further advice.
Horse insurance through Equesure
Having the right horse insurance in place when you need it is vital if you want your horse to receive the appropriate treatment and medication.
Equesure’s team specialise in equine insurance and have over 60 years of combined equestrian knowledge to help create a bespoke plan tailored to you and your horse. We can even cover your horse transport, too.
Our policies offer three options for cover when it comes to veterinary fees:
- Option 1 – £4,500 per incident with unlimited claims in the year
- Option 2 – £7,500 per incident with up to £15,000 in the year
- Option 3 – £5,000 per incident with £2,500 top up for life-saving surgery
Multi-horse policies are also available for those with more than five horses.
Call our dedicated team and get a quick quote for horse insurance.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.