Horse Medicines for Treating Ailments

With contributions from Dr. Kirk E. Pollard, DVM
Woman taking Care of a Horse

Understanding common medications is important for any responsible horse owner. There are several prescription and over-the-counter medications you'll likely be using during your horse's lifetime.

Common Prescription Medications

While some prescriptions are used for specific incidents, your veterinarian may suggest keeping a supply on hand, whether they are pain medications for horses or for specific ailments. Kirk E. Pollard, DVM, a veterinarian at Equine Veterinary Associates Inc. in Anaheim, CA, recommends horse owners, "speak to your veterinarian about what if any of these medications might be good to have on hand for emergencies considering their horse's unique health status and your own knowledge and capabilities."

Anthelmintics

Anthelmintics are used to treat parasitic worms. These worm medicines for horses include:

  • Fenbendazole (Panacur, Safe-Guard) is used to treat strongyles, cyathostome larvae, pinworms and ascarids. It is available in an oral paste.
  • Oxibendazole (Anthelcide® EQ Paste) is used to treat strongyles, roundworms, pinworms and threadworms. It is available as an oral paste.
  • Praziquantel (Equimax, Quest Plus, Zimectrin Gold) is primarily used for the treatment of tapeworms. It comes in oral paste form. Since it's only effective against tapeworms, it is often combined with other parasitic drugs such as ivermectin and moxidectin to treat a broad spectrum of parasites.
  • Ivermectin (Ivermax, Parid EQ) comes in an oral dose or paste and treats many types of parasites including strongyles, intestinal threadworms, and stomach worms.
  • Moxidectin (Quest) is available in an oral gel and treats nematodes and gastrointestinal bots. It should not be used to treat young or small horses.

Dr. Pollard cautions owners about using moxidectin and ivermectin. "There can be safety issues such as dog fatalities and environmental issues in aquatic areas." Used and unused tubes should be disposed of carefully and dogs and cats should not be allowed to ingest feces from horses that have been treated with the drugs.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are used primarily for the treatment of bacterial and fungal infections. Antibiotic medicines for horses include:

  • Gentamicin is particularly effective for treating uterine infections in mares, respiratory infections and sepsis in foals. It comes in injectable form as well as a paste for treating infections of the eyes and skin.
  • Penicillin (Agri-Cillin, Ambi-Pen, Amp-Equine) is available in oral and injectable form and is used to treat streptococcus (strangles), pneumonia and respiratory infections.
  • Tetracycline (Liquamycin, Teramycin) is used to treat bacterial infections such as Potomac Horse Fever via an injection. It is also used in an ointment for eye and skin infections.
  • Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim (Tucoprim, Uniprim, Tribissen) are antibiotics used together to treat bacterial infections such as strangles, and complications from abscesses and wounds. There is a risk of causing colitis which can be fatal.
  • Doxycycline is similar to Tetracycline. It is available in tablet form and is used for many types of bacterial infections such as Lyme disease, Potomac Horse Fever and Ehrlichia, as well as an anti-inflammatory for horses with joint disease.
  • Chloramphenicol (Vetracoracin, Viceton) is used for bacterial infections and is available in powder, injection and ointment formulas. Dr. Pollard cautions that this is another medication that "has some human exposure risks for some individuals." Just touching the medication can damage a person's bone marrow and should only be administered while wearing gloves and mask.

Some risks related to antibiotic use in horses include vaccine failure, anemia, damage to the kidneys, hemorrhages, teeth discoloration and short-term periods of frantic behavior.

Bronchodilators

Bronchodilator mask

Bronchodilators are used for horses suffering from respiratory problems, bronchospasm, and heaves, which is an airway obstruction and inflammation caused by allergies. They are administered using inhalers or less effectively in tablets and syrups. In horses, the inhaler is either attached to a mask over the horse's nose and mouth or it goes into their nostrils.

  • Albuterol (ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin, Volmax) has short-term effects which do not last more than about an hour.
  • Clenbuterol (Aeropulmin, Ventipulmin) can have positive effects for as long as 12 hours, and it has minimal side effects.

Use of bronchodilators can lead to an increased heart rate accompanied by sweating and shaking. Horses can also develop a resistance to the medication's benefits over time.

Use Prescriptions With Vet Supervision

Use of prescription medications without the supervision of a veterinarian can lead to serious health issues. Dr. Pollard cautions, "It is always a problem for an equine veterinarian to examine and draw up a treatment plan for a horse that has been given medication loaned out by a friend with good intentions based on the feed store's diagnosis. This is what your veterinarian is for!"

Over the Counter Medications

In addition to common types of prescription drugs, horse owners should keep a supply of OTC drugs for their first aid kit. Dr. Pollard recommends at a minimum having the following over the counter medications for horses:

He recommends against the use of popular products like Bag Balm or Corona Ointment in favor of using the above OTC medications.

Keeping Your Horse Healthy

In addition to understanding common prescription and OTC medications, it's useful for horse owners to learn how to do common procedures such as giving oral medications, taking your horse's temperature and caring for their feet. Above all, develop a relationship with your equine veterinarian and discuss the use of all types of drugs to make sure your horse stays healthy and safe.

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Horse Medicines for Treating Ailments