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About 27% of horse owners buy painkillers without consulting veterinarians

A close up of a brown horse in a sunlit field.
Photo by Kelly Forrister on Unsplash

PULLMAN, Wash. – Many horse owners purchase painkilling and potentially dangerous drugs without having a veterinarian examine their horse first, a recent survey has found.

The survey of 389 horse owners in the United States found a total of about 27% bought painkillers from noncompliant sources that would fall outside the veterinarian-client-patient relationship.  As of November 2021, 47 states require some type of veterinarian-client-patient relationship to exist before a veterinarian may prescribe drugs for an animal, according to the most recent information from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Of all survey respondents: nearly 20% said they acquired pain relievers from a feed store; nearly 13% acquired drugs from online or mail-order catalogs; and 5% received drugs from a veterinarian who had never examined their animal.

“By purchasing drugs online rather than from a veterinarian, owners miss many important aspects of a veterinary visit,” said Dr. Deb Sellon, a veterinarian at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “When you see your veterinarian, you are going to get the best drugs, the best information, the best recommendation—and your veterinarian can help ensure you are confident in administering the drugs.”

Sellon said as items become more available on the internet and people get more comfortable buying things online, the number of drugs sold electronically is likely to increase.

Sellon led the study, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, with fellow researchers Macarena Sanz and Jamie Kopper, who is now at Iowa State University.

The survey found the most common drug horse owners had on hand was oral phenylbutazone, informally known as “bute,” a common pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication that was possessed by 87% of respondents.

Sellon said some of the survey’s most interesting findings were the drugs some owners had, like injectable xylazine, a large animal sedative. The drug has toxic effects at high doses for horses. It can also harm humans if ingested or even spilled on broken skin.

Nearly 8% of survey respondents said they had immediate access to injectable xylazine, and more than 12% said they administered the drug in the past two years.

Sellon said there needs to be conversation with owners who don’t realize how dangerous some drugs can be, especially when those drugs are purchased online and without consulting a veterinarian.

“They may have these drugs sitting out where they are available for kids to access or people who know nothing about them,” Sellon said.

Other common drugs like detomidine, brand name Dormosedan, were also on-hand. Nearly 20% of owners said they had the gel form, which is dangerous to dogs and other animals. Nearly 27% said they administered the drug to their horses in the past two years.

“I am not saying horse owners shouldn’t have these drugs. I am saying if you have them, know the risks and store them properly — I’d lock them up,” Sellon said.

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