Pain in Older Horses
We all want the best for our four legged friends and to see them in pain can be very distressing.
If you are lucky enough to have a horse that makes it to their senior years you will be well aware of their tendency to slow down and stiffen up. For some horses, this happens earlier than others. Some make it to their mid to late teens without ever experiencing an issue and some soldier on into their twenties before their joints start to creak. There are many, many factors that can cause pain to our horses such as injuries and old age, to name but a few. Enter Bute…
Why Is Bute Used for Horses?
One of the most common pain killers for horses known to be an effective treatment for pain and inflammation is Bute. It can be injected intravenously or given orally to horses as a powder or paste. It is inexpensive and highly effective so it is widely used and relied upon by horse owners who don’t want to see their horses in pain. However, too often, Bute ends being administered on an ongoing, continual basis.
In recent years, the ready availability and acceptability of giving Bute on an ongoing basis has made its use more prevalent. In the past there was a greater awareness of the risks of ongoing Bute use. It is, after all, intended as pain and inflammation management for acute issues, and shouldn’t really be administered for more than two weeks.
There has been a shift in the use of Bute to an ongoing one in recent years with many owners accepting the side effects as an unavoidable downside to being able to manage their horse’s pain and inflammation.
What happens if you give your horse too much Bute?
Horses who are given bute, especially at high doses or for long periods of time, can develop ulcers in their gastrointestinal tract. If ulcers develop and the Bute use continues on, it will be very difficult to achieve recovery of the ulcers. Toxicity can occur from ongoing use of bute, which also cause kidney and liver damage, anaemia and immune system problems. Recent research has also found that bute can slow the production of joint cartilage and delay bone healing which is the opposite of what we want for our horses.
Of course, under most sporting body rules, bute is a banned substance. So if you want your horse to be competing, giving bute on an ongoing basis isn’t a suitable management option.
What alternatives are there to Bute for horses?
We are by no means saying Bute should not be given, but we do recommend that it should be used properly, for a short period and only when necessary. Anti-inflammatory drugs are meant to be used for a relatively short period of time or to address acute or new problems. For example when a horse pulls a tendon, has acute laminitis or is worked too hard and an old joint problem is giving them bother.
There are several other approaches that can be taken for ongoing management of a problem or injury. The best thing to do is discuss a non-drug approach with your vet and perhaps your horse’s physio. There are other things you can do on a day to day basis as well. These include:
- Cold hosing injuries
- Wrapping legs prone to injury or problematic flare ups
- Ensuring that the diet is free from (or contains as little as possible) inflammatory ingredients. These include things like soy byproducts and omega 6s.
- Ensure the diet contains lots of inflammation mediating ingredients. These include things like turmeric, gingko, ginger and white willow bark.
- Assessing your horse regularly for signs of a returning issue after discontinuing with medications such as Bute. This will help to ensure that any niggles are dealt with quickly and don’t get worse.
There is a time and a place for everything and the miracle of modern medicine has brought us Bute, which has so much relief to offer to horses. However, it’s important to remember that it is intended for use during an acute injury or illness and shouldn’t be used on an ongoing basis. We encourage more suitable long term management strategies such as those listed above to ensure that your horse avoids developing gastric ulcers and doesn’t struggle with toxicity.