Think Before You Medicate Your Horse

Think Before You Medicate Your Horse

Firocoxib is available as an injectable, an oral paste, and tablets.

Photo: The Horse Staff

Your horse is lame. Right before a competition. Again.

Equine lameness often seems to happen at the most inopportune times, and it’s one of the main reasons for removing a horse from athletic activity. When lameness appears, horse owners are often quick to reach for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). In fact, a survey found 82% of horse owners use NSAIDs without consulting their veterinarian. But that might not be the smartest move.

“It’s important for horse owners to consult their veterinarian before giving an NSAID,” said Hoyt Cheramie, DVM, MS, senior manager of Merial’s Large Animal Veterinary Services. “The best option—and the shortest path back to soundness—may be a medication, treatment, or protocol the horse owner hasn’t considered.

“In addition, no medication is without risks,” he continued. “Your veterinarian is the best person to help you monitor your horse’s health for potential side effects or lack of efficacy. Keeping your veterinarian involved, even if it’s just informing them of your treatment decision, will provide them with important information in the future if the issue comes up again.”

Your equine veterinarian considers many factors before prescribing any treatment, including NSAIDs:

  • What is the horse’s history?
  • Is the diagnosis a simple lameness or could it be something else?
  • What treatment options are available?
  • What is the horse owner’s budget and resources?

If your veterinarian does recommend an NSAID, they’ll take into consideration:

  • Has this horse been given this medication before?
  • What dosage should the horse receive, and what is the best route of administration?
  • What are the potential side effects of the treatment or medication?

The decision-making process can be complex, which is why most equine NSAIDs are available only with a prescription. If for some reason your horse does have a reaction or fails to improve, ensuring your veterinarian is fully aware of the situation will be a benefit.

Based on your horse’s exam, your veterinarian might suggest an NSAID. Many NSAIDs work by impairing the inflammatory process by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX), which are responsible for inflammatory responses in the body. There are two COX subtypes: COX-2 is primarily associated with inflammation while COX-1 is associated with “housekeeping” activities, like protecting the gastric mucosa. While NSAIDs that target both COX-1 and COX-2 have been used for years to treat equine osteoarthritis, another class of drug (the “coxibs”) only targets COX-2 and aim to spare COX-1 enzymes. Equioxx (the trade name for firocoxib) is the only coxib NSAID approved for use in horses in the United States and is approved for use in controlling pain and inflammation associated with equine osteoarthritis. It is available in three formulations: injectable, an oral paste, and tablets.

Regardless of discipline, from pleasure riding to top-level competition, when your horse is lame, it can impact not only your short-term competitive goals but also your horse’s long-term health. So, before you reach for that old tube or bottle, talk to your veterinarian about all of your options to help effectively manage lameness, pain, and inflammation in your horse.

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