Methods of managing pain in horses range from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug use and opioids to α-2 agonists and ketamine, among others. Over the years, experience and research have helped veterinarians determine which of the numerous analgesics (painkillers) are most effective. During a presentation at the 2011 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 20-24 in Las Vegas, Nev., Khursheed Mama, DVM, Dipl. ACVA, a professor of veterinary anesthesiology at Colorado State University, discussed the different analgesic (pain management) options available and how effective they generally are for treating horses’ pain.

NSAIDs

"Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been the mainstay of equine analgesia for many years," Mama said, noting that phenylbutazone (Bute) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine) are the two most commonly used drugs in this category. Veterinarians employ these successfully to treat a variety of ailments in horses, including gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and ocular (eye) pain. Practitioners use other NSAIDs (e.g., ketoprofen and carprofen) on a less common basis to treat similar disorders.

She added that recent research showed that a topical NSAID (1% diclofenac sodium, Surpass) was effective in treating localized pain and inflammation with limited to no side effects. Mama noted one study in which up to 74% of horses tested showed an improvement in mobility and a reduction in lameness and pain when treated with this drug. She added, however, that the study’s control group (which received a placebo ointment) also demonstrated a 40% improvement.

Mama explained that w