Equine Pain Management: History and New Advances

For years veterinarians’ options were limited, but new products are helping them control horses’ pain better than ever.

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By Harry Werner, VMD, WEVA Board Member

“Pain and suffering are clinically important conditions that can adversely affect an animal’s quality of life.” This statement from the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists seems profoundly obvious to today’s equine practitioners. However, advances in understanding the nature of pain in horses, and how to manage it, have finally received due attention only in recent years.

For many years, equine veterinarians’ pain control pharmacy consisted largely of phenylbutazone and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) and some outdated narcotics. Along with topical applications of ice and soothing poultices, many horses had to live—and sometimes work—with the limited pain relief and, often, undesirable side effects these measures afforded. Research into the physiology of pain and development of newer drugs and administration techniques seemed stalled.

During the past decade, however, many practitioners increasingly emphasized their moral obligation to mitigate pain as much as possible and recognized that patients are more likely to progress to healing when their pain is controlled or eliminated. This recognition has resulted in renewed interest in basic and clinical research into the origins of pain in horses and the means by which we can effectively treat it. The result has been the introduction of new pain-relieving medications and techniques

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