NSAIDs and Competition: The Rules are Changing

Horse owners who compete in United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) sanctioned events need to be aware that effective Dec. 1, 2011, horses will not be allowed to compete with more than one of the seven approved non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in their systems. The rule was adopted by USEF based on the recommendation of its Equine Drugs and Medications Committee. The first phase of the rule was implemented April 1, 2010, and required a disclosure for horses treated with more than one NSAID, also called "stacking," within five days of a competition.

Hoyt Cheramie, DVM, equine specialist for Merial's Large Animal Veterinary Services, said the decision to limit NSAID use in competition horses will help owners and trainers avoid some of the inherent risks associated with multiple-NSAID usage.

"No NSAID designed for use in the horse was ever intended to be used in conjunction with another NSAID," he explained. "There are potential side effects of stacking NSAIDs such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, gastric and colonic ulceration, large colon and cecal impaction, kidney damage and right dorsal colitis. Many of these conditions can lead to colic."

In addition to the risks involved with using more than one NSAID concurrently, there are potential dangers when administering even a single NSAID.

"Most NSAIDs are administered with a notched syringe with one dose being just a small portion of the entire tube," Cheramie noted. "It is not unheard of for a horse owner to unknowingly give an overdose of just one NSAID, which can lead to health complications such as gastric ulcers, diarrhea, anorexia and renal dysfunction."

When trying to provide relief from the inflammation caused by osteoarthritis, for example, especially with a product that has to be administered multiple times daily, owners can also inadvertently expose their horses to peaks and valleys in relief. Horse owners can minimize the possibility of an overdose, adverse reactions, and inconsistent levels of relief by consulting closely with their veterinarian. Cheramie also recommends the use of a product that can be administered just once a day versus multiple times, such as firocoxib.

"Whether a horse is competing and needs relief from discomfort or at home recovering from an injury, owners should partner with their veterinarians to determine the best treatment option," Cheramie said. "For that treatment to work, owners also need to be diligent about following dosing directions."

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