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Equine Care: Over-the-Counter Meds You Can Give a Horse

Last updated: September 14, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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A few months ago, during a trail ride, my horse started showing signs of stifle pain. One of my fellow riders offered Tylenol for my horse, catching me off guard. The moment was an eye-opener, leading me to wonder: Which over-the-counter meds are actually safe for horses?

While there’s a range of OTC medications available that can be used for horses, it’s crucial to discern which are beneficial and which could be harmful. And while some of these might be great for intermittent use or emergencies, the chronic use of any medication should always be overseen by a vet.

Some can cause side effects, especially if a horse has a specific condition or if given in the wrong doses. So, saddle up and join me as we delve deeper into the world of OTC meds for horses, understanding their uses, benefits, and the precautions we must heed.

Picture of a young thoroughbred horse in training.

Veterinary Guidance is Essential When Medicating Horses

I remember the mix of gratitude and apprehension I felt when offered Tylenol for my horse during that trail ride. It’s a sensation many horse owners can relate to—a wish to ease our horse’s discomfort coupled with the nagging question: “Is this safe?”

Here’s the unvarnished truth: self-medicating our equine friends, even with OTC meds, is fraught with pitfalls. Sure, the convenience of reaching into our medicine cabinet or a local store is alluring, but the potential repercussions can’t be ignored.

Firstly, horses aren’t simply large dogs or oversized humans. Their physiology, metabolism, and the way they react to medications can be drastically different. What’s benign for us might be toxic for them. The dire consequences of a misstep—kidney failure, gastrointestinal issues, or even life-threatening reactions—are risks that no horse lover would willingly take.

And then there’s the science of dosage. Anyone who’s spent time around these magnificent creatures knows that they vary vastly in size and constitution. The right amount for a petite Arabian might be woefully insufficient for a robust Clydesdale. And while a tad extra might seem harmless, overdosing can spiral into a serious health crisis in a matter of hours.

In essence, while the vast world of OTC meds opens doors to quick fixes, it also demands caution. The invaluable advice of a veterinarian isn’t just a formality—it’s a lifeline, ensuring we offer relief without inadvertently causing harm. So, before we delve into the specifics of each medication, let’s remember: our horses trust us with their well-being, and consulting a vet is the best way we can honor that trust.

Over-the-Counter Medications for Horses: What You Should Know

Parasites like pinworms and stomach worms can be a nuisance and health threat. That’s where Zimecterin or ivermectin comes into play. They’re effective against these pests, and a 6-gram dose of about 1.7% of ivermectin solution is usually sufficient for a horse weighing around 1,200 lbs. Summer sores? They’re on the list of conditions these medications tackle too.

For those times when allergies strike, Benadryl can be your horse’s best friend. Although not officially approved for equines, it’s been my go-to when my horse shows signs of hives or respiratory inflammation. Having 15-20 tablets on hand has always been my practice. However, if you do decide to use it, monitor your horse. Drowsiness is a common side effect, and always be cautious with horses already on certain medications.

Celecoxib, a COX-2 inhibitor, has shown promise in treating conditions like lameness and synovitis. What’s intriguing is that COX-2 inhibitors might be gentler on the gut, although further studies are warranted.

A word to the wise: if your mare is pregnant or nursing, consult a vet before administering any OTC drugs. And if your horse is into competitive sports, always be up-to-date with rules about medication use. For instance, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) has stipulations about NSAID usage during competitions.

Remember, while NSAIDs can be a godsend in acute conditions, they’re not meant for prolonged use. My vet, for instance, recommends against their use for more than five or six days.

Vigilance is key after administering NSAIDs. Look out for symptoms like weight loss or mood changes. And mixing NSAIDs? It’s a no-go. The potential reactions and side effects can be harmful.

Lastly, the golden rule: Always, always seek the advice of your vet for any persistent or severe condition. Medications can offer relief, but only a professional can diagnose and treat underlying issues.

Picture of over-the-counter pills spilling out of a medicine bottle,

Equine Medication: Anti-Inflammatories for Horses

Whenever one of my horses shows signs of discomfort or pain, my immediate impulse is to contact a vet. However, there are situations when immediate veterinary care isn’t an option, highlighting the importance of understanding pain relief alternatives for our equine companions.

Many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available for horses, each with its specific purpose and considerations. Before even considering an NSAID, it’s essential to assess if your horse has underlying conditions like renal disease or dehydration, which can be exacerbated by certain medications.

NSAIDs can be game-changers in treating conditions like colic, sepsis-related complications, and general fever. Their primary function is to inhibit pain-inducing enzymes in the horse’s body, namely COX-1, COX-2, and COX-3. These drugs target inflammation in distinct ways, but their ultimate goal is the same: reduce pain and tissue damage.

Among the more common NSAIDs are flunixin, Bute (phenylbutazone), naproxen, Equioxx, and meloxicam. Dosages should be tailored to the individual horse, considering the drug’s potency and any predispositions the horse might have to gastrointestinal issues.

While intravenous administration is popular among many horse owners, there are oral alternatives, often in paste form. Administering is as simple as ensuring a small amount is placed in the horse’s mouth and swallowed.

For a quick guide:

  • Flunixin or Equioxx is often the go-to for ailments like laminitis or intestinal disorders.
  • Bute is favored for addressing lameness or muscle pain. However, its potency means caution is needed to prevent overdosing.
  • Meloxicam is the choice for challenges like osteoarthritis and tendon issues.

Remember, while these medications offer relief, they’re not one-size-fits-all solutions. It’s essential always to exercise caution, and when in doubt, consult your veterinarian.

Picture of my horse grazing.
Type of MedicationExampleUses
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)PhenylbutazoneRelief from pain and inflammation.
AntibioticsTriple Antibiotic OintmentTreatment of minor cuts or abrasions.
AntihistaminesDiphenhydramine (Benadryl)Counteract allergic reactions, bug bites.
Wound Care ProductsHydrogen PeroxideCleaning and disinfecting wounds.
Electrolyte SolutionsAiding in rehydration.
Gastrointestinal MedsBismuth Subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)Addressing mild digestive upsets.
LaxativesMineral OilRelief from constipation.

General Precautions for Administering OTC Meds to Horses:

  1. Checking for Interactions: Before administering any new medication, always ensure there’s no risk of harmful interactions with other meds your horse might be on.
  2. Allergic Reactions: Monitor your horse closely for any signs of allergic reactions, especially when introducing a new medication.
  3. Dosage Precision: Always adhere to recommended dosages. An overdose or underdose can have adverse effects on your horse’s health.

Research Insights on Over-the-Counter Meds for Horses

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for horses have been widely researched to ensure their safety and efficacy. Here are some key insights:

  1. Historical Context: Historically, many OTC medications used for humans found their way to horse care, given their effectiveness. These include NSAIDs and antihistamines, commonly used to address pain and allergies, respectively.
  2. Efficacy and Safety: Extensive studies confirm that while many OTC meds are effective for specific equine ailments, their safety hinges on correct dosage and administration. For instance, while phenylbutazone effectively treats inflammation, overdosing can lead to ulcers or kidney issues.
  3. Alternative Therapies: Research has increasingly explored alternative OTC treatments. Herbal remedies, supplements, and certain topicals have been examined for both their effectiveness and potential side effects in equines.
  4. Regulation and Usage: Regulatory bodies have shown interest in OTC meds, especially in the context of competitive events. Studies have determined “withdrawal times” for various medications to ensure competitive fairness and the well-being of the animals.
  5. Future Directions: Ongoing research aims to uncover more about the long-term effects of OTC meds, potential resistance issues, and new treatment possibilities.

For horse owners, it’s imperative to stay updated on research and always consult a veterinarian before administering any OTC medication.

Can You Give a Horse Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is one of my go-to painkillers whenever I need to get rid of acute pain. So, it got me wondering if the use of ibuprofen will also benefit my horses in case of emergencies.

Ibuprofen is an NSAID for horses and has not been approved by the USEF. However, small amounts of ibuprofen are generally safe for horses and can alleviate muscle soreness. Large doses of ibuprofen are harmful and can create complications related to the GI tract.

There isn’t much statistical data available regarding the use of ibuprofen in horses, so there’s definitely a risk factor involved. Anecdotally speaking, ibuprofen is readily available, and people often choose to rely on it during emergencies when there’s no vet at hand.

How Much Tylenol Can I Give a Horse?

I have heard a lot of praise for Tylenol from friends who have given it to their horses. I know that Tylenol isn’t an NSAID, so naturally, I became interested in how it compares with equine anti-inflammatory drugs and how much Tylenol is considered safe for my horse.

It would be best if you didn’t give more than 9mg of Tylenol per pound of body weight to your horse. Tylenol is recognized for its ability to treat lameness and relieve minor pains. It’s also proven to help with laminitis without the dangerous side effects of NSAIDs.

Don’t give your horse NSAIDs if it has a history of kidney problems, ulcers, or colitis, as improper administration of these over-the-counter meds can cause all sorts of horse diseases. Tylenol, however, has only a comparatively low risk of liver-related diseases even when given in high amounts.

Signs of liver damage in horses are pretty difficult to notice until it’s too late. However, it would be best if you kept an eye out for subtle symptoms like weight loss, change in appetite, jaundice (yellowish tinge to the skin, gums, and whites of the eyes), and typical signs of depression.

Picture of a sorrel horse with a flaxen mane.

Can You Add Aspirin to Your Horse’s Feed?

I recently noticed a friend of mine casually adding aspirin powder to his horse’s diet. Though aspirin is technically an NSAID, is it worthwhile or even safe to give to your horses?

Aspirin is effective in relieving pain and preventing fever in horses. It mainly helps treat conditions where blood clots are formed in the veins, such as laminitis and ischemia, and alleviates pain in the joints and muscles.

A small dose (5 mg/lb/day) of aspirin mixed in your horse’s diet (with some sweet grain to dilute the taste) is relatively harmless. It’s often given twice a day as its effects wear off quickly. However, as with all NSAIDs, prolonged use can cause various harmful conditions, with gastric ulcers most frequently reported.

If you have surgery planned for your horse, you should keep away from aspirin two weeks before the surgery; the reason is that aspirin makes the blood thin and causes abnormal bleeding. As the USEF or FDA does not verify aspirin for horses, it’s best only to use it if you run out of other, more reliable pain relievers.

7 Over-the-Counter Drugs You Can Give Your Horse.

  • Ibuprofen
  • Tylenol
  • Aspirin
  • Benadryl
  • Celecoxib
  • Chloroxylenol
  • Ivermectin

Below is a YouTube video that demonstrates an easy way to give your horse oral medicine.

Conclusion

Over-the-counter drugs can save your horse a lot of discomfort in case a vet is not available. However, they can have complex side effects and are unpredictable, so you should keep their dosage and treatment period should be kept at a minimum. On your next vet visit, you should fill them in with what you have given your horse and any following symptoms you might have noticed.

FAQ

Which drug is commonly used to sedate horses?

The use of sedative drugs such as Xylazine (Rompun), Detomidine (Dormosedan), or Romifidin(SediVet)) is the most commonly used by veterinarians during equine procedures.

What drugs are used to put a horse down?

A barbiturate, typically pentobarbital, is used to euthanize horses. Horses that are not able to be rehabilitated after suffering an injury or sickness are typically given a lethal injection of this drug by a vet.