BUTE: weighing up the odds

NON-STEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY drugs (NSAIDs) have been used to enable injured horses to compete.
Issue date : 21 November 2008

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NON-STEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY drugs (NSAIDs) have been used to enable injured horses to compete. Most NSAIDs are broken down in the liver and ultimately transported out of the body via urine or bile. Because these drugs are protein-bound, some will stay in the tissues. That’s why their pain-relieving effects persist for so long after administration has stopped. Phenylbutazone, more commonly known as bute, is this week’s topic. Bute was the first NSAID to be used in horses. It’s still by far the most popular drug used by horse owners.

The powder is administered by mouth, but the bitter taste sometimes poses a problem. The product also comes in a paste or injection form. Timing is very important when using bute. If it’s administered more or less on an empty stomach, more of it will be absorbed into the small intestine. The more food there is in the stomach, the slower the absorption. Bute is by far the cheapest NSAID and it’s licensed for long-term use. This is unfortunate because of its side-effects This drug affects the intestinal lining, particularly along the large colon, making it permeable to proteins.

This means that the horse loses protein and therefore fluids can accumulates in its tissues, because the proteins are no longer containing them in the bloodstream. These effects can be fatal. Bute can also cause liver and kidney diseases, haemorrhages in the gastrointestinal tract and oesophagus and mouth ulcers. However, bute is particularly effective in relieving bone pain, but should only be given once a day or once every other day, especially when the system has become saturated with the drug.

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Please consult your vet before using bute. It’s not advisable to use it to mask lameness when a horse is competing, as the damage it will do won’t be worth the prize or prestige gained. There are several natural alternatives to bute. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), liquorice root and devil’s claw are my favourites. Sometimes it’s better to clear up the inflammation to prevent long-term damage to the area of trauma. Rest is often effective, while controlling the horse’s movements to prevent pain may also be a good solution. Always remember to get a vet’s diagnosis. – Kim Dyson (082 888 6511). |fw