Handle Medications Safely

Many equine caregivers are giving medications to their horses this time of year for breeding, seasonal training, and competition. Often we take for granted the handling of commonly used substances, with never a thought as to adverse effects on ourselves. There are a number of medications that can, in fact, be harmful. By knowing what these drugs can do, and by carefully washing your hands after handling any medications or medicating your horse, you can reduce your personal risks. Here are a few problem drugs:

Phenylbutazone (Bute)--If ingested or inhaled in any form (paste, tablets, powder), this drug can cause aplastic anemia in humans. Bute suppresses the function of the bone marrow, causing a potentially fatal condition.

Regu-Mate--This medication is progestin and is used for suppressing the estrus cycle in mares. It is easily absorbed through human skin. Women handling this product might experience dysmenorrhea, i.e., an abnormal, delayed, or prolonged menstrual cycle and associated hormonal imbalances. Wear non-porous gloves when handling this, or use a spray applicator to administer the daily dose. Another handy tip to minimize handling the drug is to fill a several-month supply of 10-mL red-top blood tubes with each daily amount. Then you can pop off the cap and pour the medicine onto the horse's food without touching it.

Prostaglandin F 2 alpha--This is another medication (cloprostenol or dinoprost) often found on a breeding farm (Estrumate or Lutalyse) to manipulate a mare's breeding cycle. Anyone with asthma should handle this with the utmost care when injecting a horse because of potentially severe reactions.

DMSO--Dimethylsulfoxide is a solvent that is also known to be a potent anti-inflammatory medication, commonly used in managing equine injuries or swellings. Past studies have indicated that this drug might be associated with the development of cataracts in humans. It should be handled carefully using non-porous gloves to avoid direct skin contact.

Topical wound antiseptics--Any medication can be irritating to the eyes if residues are left on your fingers and you inadvertently rub or touch your eyes. Careful washing after medication application is the best measure of safety. Inadvertent contact with steroid-based topical medications could delay healing of a human skin wound, and prolonged use might reduce skin elasticity.

Tincture of Iodine--This is often applied to the bottom of a horse's feet to eliminate malodor, toughen the soles, and disinfect the frogs. Not only can it irritate skin, but this substance stains human skin and clothing, so use care when applying.

Isoxsuprine dust--There is controversial use of isoxsuprine for the treatment of navicular disease and laminitis, and many horses receive this medication once or twice daily. Most horses will eat the tablets easily, but others require this product to be ground into a powder and mixed into the feed. Its original use is in humans as a vasodilator to improve circulation to the periphery. Preparation of the product whether with mortar and pestle or with a coffee grinder should be done using a face mask to prevent accidental ingestion or inhalation of the aerosolized powder. The same precautions should be taken if using pentoxyfylline in a similar manner.

Any medication, no matter how seemingly benign, should be handled with respect and with care. All medications should be locked away from children and animals at all times.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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