Most medications require a prescription from a veterinarian before you can give them to your horses.
The reason for this is multifold but, in general, it ensures that the horse needs the medication to begin with, that there is a diagnosis for the condition to be treated and the risks/benefits of the medication can be discussed and understood.
Dewormers and several antibiotics have become commonplace in the standard equestrian’s health care cupboard. There has been much debate recently in the veterinary and human health fields regarding the prudent use of antibiotics in both people and animals.
Antibiotics is used to help our bodies fight bacterial infections. The trouble comes when the bacteria we are fighting begin to develop defences to the antibiotics. These allows the bacteria to evade the medication and hence make it easier for the bacteria to continue their destruction of the body.
Bacteria develop resistance through several means but overexposure to antibiotics is one of the main mechanisms — the bacteria become tolerant to the medication.
This is true of dewormers, too. The parasitic worms we are trying to kill have been overexposed to the dewormers and are developing resistance.
This is something everyone should consider before using dewormers and antibiotics without first determining the need for medication. Your veterinarian can determine the best medication based on accurate identification of the specific worm or bacteria involved.
Another medication commonly available over the counter is dexamethasone. This corticosteroid is commonly found in any tack shop and most barn cupboards. It is used to treat any number of ailments without any heed or consideration for the significant effects and side effects it can have on your horse.
Dex can affect horse’s internal hormone levels and, if used even for a short period of time on a consistent basis, it can lead to significant metabolic problems. In addition, dex suppresses the immune system. This is a significant concern as dex is commonly used to treat allergic small airway disease (a.k.a. heaves).
If a case of early pneumonia is mistaken for heaves by horse owners, dexamethasone will make pneumonia much worse. Finally, dexamethasone puts horses at increased risk for laminitis — a devastating and sometimes deadly condition of the feet.
Any medication you put into an animal will have direct effects and side effects which you should be familiar with prior to giving it.
If you do not know those effects, don’t give it to your horse.
Chris Bell is an equine veterinarian and surgical specialist who operates Elders Equine Veterinary Service, with clinics in Cartier and Winnipeg. See www.eldersequineclinic.com.