Two anti-inflammatory prescription medications many horse owners keep on hand are phenylbutazone (bute) and flunixin meglumine (banamine). But when should these medications be used and also, how do the two compare?
Bute and banamine are the most commonly used equine non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for reducing inflammation and pain, and both can be used for several different situations.
Each can be given intravenously by a veterinarian, and they also come in oral forms which are easier for horse owners to administer at home.
Treating Equine Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural reactive process that occurs in response to an injury and the first step to healing. The inflammatory process involves complex reactions between damaged cells at the site of injury, blood vessels, immune cells, and biochemical signals sent and received in the body.
Inflammation is a completely natural process and shouldn’t be altogether prevented, but it can be problematic when it becomes excessive and creates a vicious cycle that causes more tissue damage and pain than the original injury.
This is where NSAIDs such as bute and banamine can be helpful, as they work by interfering with the production of prostaglandins, chemicals responsible for promoting inflammation in the body, while still allowing healing to take place.
Bute for Horses
Bute comes as a paste, pill, or powder and is typically given to horses who are experiencing musculoskeletal pain such as lameness. The drug takes several hours to become effective but tends to work well for many horses. However, bute does come with several precautions which should never be ignored:
- Unsafe to give at high doses for long periods of time;
- Can cause ulcers in the large colon, especially if used frequently or for long periods of time;
- Unsafe for young horses who have not fully developed the ability to process the drug as well as for horses with underlying kidney or liver disease;
- May mask signs of mild to moderate lameness, which in turn may lead to overexertion and worsen the injury.
Banamine for Horses
Banamine is commonly used for smooth muscle pain such as colic or for ocular discomfort from something like corneal ulcers, and the drug’s main purpose is for pain control.
While some people believe that banamine treats colic, this isn’t exactly true, and in fact, the drug may mask colic pain, leading owners to mistakenly believe the colic episode is resolved. Always contact your veterinarian if your horse experiences colic.
Flunixin meglumine comes as a paste or injectable, but it should never be given intramuscularly, as it can cause severe or even fatal side effects if given outside of a blood vessel. It’s best to leave this type of injection to your veterinarian. Like bute, banamine should never be given for long periods of time as it can cause gastrointestinal and/or kidney damage.
Though bute and banamine in horses certainly have their place for treating certain acute conditions, neither should be relied upon for continuous pain management. If your horse suffers from arthritis or another chronic issue, ask your veterinarian about a more suitable long-term pain relief solution.
Likewise, if you plan on giving your horse several doses of either NSAID, even for a short period of time, it is always a good idea to supplement with high quality equine probiotics before and after treatment to avoid any type of digestive distress or negative side effects.