Sedative, Analgesic, and Anesthetic Usage in Horses

How much do veterinarians use sedatives, analgesics (painkillers), and general anesthetics in horses? Veterinarians at The Ohio State University surveyed members of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to find out, and the findings were presented at the 2009 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 6-9 in Las Vegas, Nev.

John Hubbell, DVM, MS, professor of veterinary clinical sciences at The Ohio State University, reported the following observations from the study, which has been submitted for publication in the Equine Veterinary Journal:

  • 952 veterinarians responded to the survey, for a response rate of 13.7%.


  • Nearly all veterinarians reported sedating horses at least weekly. Most use alpha-2 agonists (such as xylazine, detomidine, and romifidine) in combination with other drugs.
  • Two-thirds use acepromazine in stallions and geldings.
  • About a quarter rarely or never use twitches for restraint.


  • More than 90% prescribe the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications phenylbutazone (Bute) and flunixin meglumine (Banamine) at least once a week.
  • At least 48% rarely or never prescribe other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
  • Mepivicaine and lidocaine are used for local anesthesia (nerve blocks) by about 70% of respondents. Other local anesthetics were rarely used.

General Anesthesia

  • Half of the veterinarians reported anesthetizing horses for short procedures (20 minutes or less) at least weekly. Ten percent anesthetize horses daily.
  • More than half rarely or never anesthetize horses for longer periods.
  • Xylazine is the most commonly used sedative before general anesthesia, followed by ketamine alone or with xylazine.
  • About half have an assistant for at least 75% of their short-term general anesthesia procedures.

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.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More