NSAIDs: Pain Relief or Pain in the Gut?

Most of us have used these drugs in our horses at one time or another and have some appreciation of their benefits. And there is no doubt that many of the NSAIDs are invaluable in the treatment of many of the ailments that can plague the athletic hor
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The demands of athletic activity can (and often do) take their toll on the horse’s body, particularly the joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles. Sole bruising, tendon strains, sprained suspensory ligaments, arthritic joints, and sore backs, to name but a few, are common injuries in athletic horses.

A process common to all of these ailments is inflammation–we are all very familiar with the "cardinal signs" of inflammation. The affected area is hot, swollen, and painful (the horse flinches when pressure is applied). For injuries involving the musculoskeletal system, there will be varying degrees of lameness, reflecting pain and loss of function of the affected tissues.

The most popular medications used in these situations are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known by the acronym NSAIDs. The NSAIDs most commonly used in horses include phenylbutazone ("Bute"), meclofenamic acid (Arquel), flunixin meglumine (Banamine), ketoprofen (Ketofen), and aspirin. All except aspirin have received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in horses. Naproxen has also been extensively used in horses, but an equine formulation is no longer available.

Most of us have used these drugs in our horses at one time or another and have some appreciation of their benefits. And there is no doubt that many of the NSAIDs are invaluable in the treatment of many of the ailments that can plague the athletic horse. However, some can be toxic, and you need to be aware of those risks

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Written by:

Ray Geor, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, is the pro vice-chancellor of the Massey University College of Sciences, in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

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