Does Your Animal Need Horse Painkillers?
If horses could talk, they’d be able to look their veterinarian right in the eye and say, “Doctor, I’m feeling some acute pain in my girth line… and it is radiating up toward my pelvis. But it only hurts if it’s cold outside.”
While this type of insight would make diagnosing and treating pain in horses much easier, it isn’t the reality. Instead, we must tune ourselves to our horse and learn to identify if the animal is in pain, and then work with our veterinarian to decide on a course of action that likely includes the use of horse painkillers. Let’s first look at some of the leading indicators of pain in horses.
Remember, horses are powerful animals, yet they are just as prone to injury as any other domestic or competitive animal – and muscular-skeletal strains, sprains, bruises, and breaks are an unfortunate reality for active animals.
If you see any of the following, connect with your veterinarian right away:
* Refusal to jump
* Resistance to bending or lateral flexion
* Defensive behaviors like biting or kicking
* Uneven tracking – laterally, forward or backward
* Rough, choppy strides
* Your horse seeming “off” somehow
* Resistance to being lead
It is important to remember that if your horse is a race horse, there will likely experience some swelling, pain, and tenderness during the course of their racing career. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are injured. Just as a marathon runner can experience sprains, strains, and general soreness and fatigue during their training regimen, racehorses will also develop similar pain as a result of the greater physical demands placed on these high-performance animals.
Your veterinarian will likely prescribe a painkiller to help with the soreness, and they’ll help you uncover whether or not the horse is simply sore, or is actually injured. In either case, horse painkillers are commonly prescribed to minimize discomfort.
Veterinarians diagnose horse pain in a variety of ways, including:
The use of a hoof tester can apply gentle pressure to the navicular area or coffin bone, which can then determine if the horse is feeling pain in these localized areas. The hoof tester is also used to help uncover foot abscesses.
A hands-on inspection by a qualified horse veterinarian can also help uncover shin splints and bucked shins, as well as generalized joint pain. Splints are a common concern among racehorses, and a thorough visual inspection can uncover them quickly.
Veterinarians may also ask the owner to have the horse trot, at which time the vet will look for some of the telltale signs in which horses manifest pain – most notably, the side to side head nod or an unevenness in the hips. This visual observation can help uncover a particular leg that may be causing pain in the animal.
Abdominal pain in horses is most often indicated by profuse sweating, constantly attempting to roll, anorexia, looking or swatting at its belly, and an elevated respiratory or heart rate. General abdominal discomfort is fairly vague, but ulcers are a common cause seen in the majority of racehorses.
It is vital that the trainer and the veterinarian are in close communication, as some of the visual indicators of pain in horses may actually be the result of behavioral or training problems. Some horses may indicate a higher pain level than another equine, so having the input of the trainer is crucial.
Horse painkiller options available today
Local anesthetics: Though we have come a long way since the use of pure cocaine in the late 1800s, veterinarians still use a derivative of the original compound. Most vets will prescribe bupivacaine, mepivacaine, or lidocaine to deliver a powerful, localized numbing sensation for a horse in pain.
NSAIDs: Originally created in the mid 1850s, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs became widely used at the turn of the 20th century (it was first marketed in 1899 by drug maker Bayer). Traditional aspirin isn’t very effective in horses as it is eliminated very quickly from the bloodstream, but other NSAIDs are – ketoprofen (Ketofen), flunixin meglumine (Banamine), and phenylbutazone (Bute) are widely used today as effective horse painkillers.
Centrally-acting analgesics: For more severe pain, veterinarians may administer horse painkillers that act directly on the central nervous system. Common drugs in use today for horses are: butorphanol (Torbogesic), detomidine (Domosedan), xylazine (Rompun), pentazocine (Talwin), and morphine.
Horse painkillers that are available today are often quite potent, and should be used under the supervision of an experience veterinarian. Ensure to keep accurate records as to the type of medication, the dosage, the method of administration, and the time/date administered. This will help your veterinarian and trainer more accurately and safely treat your prized equine.