Horse racing has far more stringent medication regulations than most other equine disciplines, and this was reflected in the Racehorse Medications Table Topic discussion at the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention on Friday, Dec. 6. The majority of the discussion revolved around the legality of using various medications and their withdrawal times. Gary Norwood, DVM, a private practitioner in Metairie, La., and Ben Franklin Jr., DVM, both past presidents of the AAEP, moderated this session.

One problem for many racehorse veterinarians is the variance in medication rules from state to state. Some states consider certain medications to be legal and useful and don’t even test for them, while others consider the same substance to be performance-enhancing and actively test horses for its presence. Additionally, some states are reticent to divulge their medication rules; one veterinarian described the extreme difficulty in getting this information from a state racing commission. Other commissions freely provide this information upon request.

“It would be nice if we had uniform rules, which is what AAEP is vying for at present,” said Norwood. “And also a place to go if you need to know this information, other than another veterinarian in your area.

“These kind of dilemmas are why we’ve come out for uniform rules, so no matter where a horse goes or comes from, we know what can be done and what passes the bar as legal,” he added. It was also suggested that veterinarians with patients which will be traveling abroad to race check that country’s medication regulations far in advance, in case a very long withdrawal time is required for a medication.

Another consideration in the controversy over what’s legal and what’s not is whether the rules should be based on withdrawal times or levels of medications tested in the horse. Some argue that various testing methods aren’t always reliable because a small percentage of horses’ metabolisms lie outside the normal range. These horses will have very high or very low levels of a medication compared to normal horses after a standard dose and withdrawal time.

Furosemide, Herbs, and Compounding

Since medication rules are getting re-evaluated, Norwood asked attendees if they thought they could adequately treat bleeders (horses suffering from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage) with only furosemide (Salix) on race day, without other medications. No one seemed to think so, and the discussion turned to which other medications they thought would improve their ability to treat this problem.

“There’s not a lot of information on ancillary medications; it’s mostly anecdotal,” said Norwood. This is the same case with herbal medications, which a few attendees used, but which most practitioners regarded with some skepticism for the lack of scientific proof of efficacy. A lack of confidence in the accuracy of the listed ingredients in unregulated herbal supplements was also mentioned.

In a related discussion, attendees considered the accuracy of listed ingredients in compounded medications, citing one study that found a compounded product with 136% of its labeled value for the active ingredient. Keeping in mind that many compounded products have less than their declared value of an active ingredient, the attendees questioned the effect of inaccurately labeled medications on both withdrawal time and on the condition the medication is intended to treat.

The session closed with a discussion of various antibiotics’ risks and rewards, along with those of some immune boosters. As is usually the case, some veterinarians cited more success with particular medications than others, but all agreed on the need for more uniform racehorse medication regulation in the United States.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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