The use of corticosteroids in racehorses has created controversy, but the medications are beneficial when used appropriately. That was the message delivered by Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, Dipl. ECVS, during the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit IV, held Oct. 16-17 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

"Proponents, of course, will say they (corticosteroids) are needed to decrease inflammation, musculoskeletal pain, ongoing joint degradation, and opposite limb overload," said McIlwraith during his presentation on the summit’s opening day. "The opponents will say they are merely masking pain and lead to joint deterioration. I’m obviously in the first camp, the proponents of corticosteroids. They have a substantial place in the practice of veterinary medicine. But there are side effects with some products. Not all corticosteroids are the same."

McIlwraith’s talk included a review of research on corticosteroids.

"Depo-Medrol (methylprednisolone acetate) reduces lameness, but also causes a significant increase in cartilage degradation," he said. "That problem isn’t seen with other products such as Vetalog (triamcinolone acetonide) and Celestone Soluspan (betamethasone sodium phosphate and betamethasone acetate).

"Depo-Medrol is bad; the others are good. That’s the bottom line," said McIlwraith, who is based at Colorado State University and is a pioneer in the field of equine orthopedic research and surgery.

Veterinarians administer corticosteroids to racehorses most commonly through intra-articular (in the joint) injections. This