It makes sense therefore that an effective method of pain relief will radically improve your horse's ability to cope with the situation, calming their pain reflex and enabling prompt treatment of the symptoms.
Treat The Cause Not The Symptoms
Pain relief for horses, particularly those containing chemical or pharmaceutical properties, should not be considered a long term solution. Such treatments will only mask the symptoms not remove the cause and by continually masking the symptoms you are at risk of worsening the injury itself.
To illustrate, if you badly sprained your ankle it would probably hurt like mad. You would not want to put any weight on it whatsoever as doing so would cause a sharp, sudden pain that would make you wince or cry out.
Imagine if you were then given a very strong painkiller so that you felt no pain in your ankle. After a couple of hours of pain-free existence, you would probably start to use your ankle almost normally, allowing it to bear your weight as if it were not injured at all.
That's fine until the pain relief drug wears off and suddenly you collapse in agony.
Trying to get your horse to understand this principle is virtually impossible since they will not comprehend the causes of pain - they just know something hurts.
Pain Relief - Just What The Doctor Ordered
The most common options of pain relief for horses are based on pharmaceutical drug treatments administered or prescribed by your veterinary surgeon.
Cortizone (a "Steriod") is used where joint pain is severe and immediate relief and mobility are required. However, prolonged steriod usage is not advised as the treatment will become less and effective with repeated use.
Phenylbutazone or "Bute" as it's also known is widely used due to its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.
It is prescribed to treat muscle, bone and joint injuries and lameness or problems arising from laminitis and can be given either as a powder in the horse's feed or by intravenous injection administered by your Vet so that it gets into the bloodstream immediately.
This is a powerful pain reliever that will provide respite for your horse within 1-2 hours of administering the drug if given orally, quicker if given intravenously.
The dosage is given as prescribed by your veterinary surgeon and will depend on the size and weight of the animal together with the severity of the pain.
Side effects of pain relief for horses are rare in an otherwise healthy animal but the risk increases for foals, pregnant mares or older horses and therefore the dosage should be carefully controlled and monitored.
Some reported side-effects include liver or kidney damage and ulceration of the intestine through repeated use of a high dosage.
Pain Relief - The Natural Way
What natural pain relief options are available? Do they actually work?
Undoubtedly, while prescribed medication has it's place it can often be complimented by effective herbal or natural remedies which have been acknowledged as having pain relieving properties for centuries.
Speaking from personal experience, we can highly recommend the following remedies offering proven natural pain relief for horses.
A herb best known for its highly effective anti-inflammatory properties is Devil's Claw. It's not as scary as it sounds!
This is widely advocated as a successful pain reliever for joint pain in horses and is said to be almost as effective as Cortizone or Bute (mentioned above). Animals recovering from surgery or suffering from arthritis benefit form the use of this remedy, the side effects of which are minimal which is a benefit if required for long-term usage.
Arnica is particularly useful for treating bruising or soft-tissue injuries where the skin is unbroken. It can be used for general sprains or knocks and works by relaxing the muscles and alleviating spasms. It is available as a gel applied to the site of the bruise but should never be used on open sores.
You may have heard of Chamomile as a tea but did you konw it is also a highly effective anti-inflammatory and is very good at calming horses, particularly important if an injured horse is on box rest and liable to "stress up". Camomile can be taken orally as a dilution or mixed with feed and can also boost a sickly horse's immune system to improve recovery times.
Calendula is another excellent natural remedy with anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to heal skin wounds or infections.
Some supplements given regularly will also free up an animal's joints offering improved mobility while not necessarily offering pain relief. However, an animal prone to joint stiffness such as an older horse will see quite dramatic results using substances such as Chondroitin Sulphate, Glucosamine or MSM.
We cannot recommend these highly enough as our real life example in the section
Geriatric Horse Care
Treatment should only be given once the cause of the symptoms have been fully diagnosed by a qualified veterinary professional. If you prefer to use alternative treatments or supplements we advise you to research these carefully in order to ensure you are aware of any possible dosage limitations or side effects.
After all, the purpose of pain relief is to make the horse more comfortable, it is not an end in itself.