Cutting Equine Drug Costs

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Paying for your horse’s routine needs is getting expensive enough. If you need to add medications, the cost can skyrocket. However, you can save a bit on medications if you know how to do it.

First — and most importantly — never change a medication or choose one yourself without your veterinarian’s consent. As a drug-oriented society, we tend to forget that every drug benefit also comes with a risk. There are also many species differences in regard to drug safety. For example, the safety of the common human pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol) in horses is unknown. It can kill dogs and cats.

Go Generic: Whenever possible, go with generic drugs. Generics are available for many commonly used brand names, like Banamine and Lasix, and can save you money. We’ve included examples in our chart.

Buy Bulk: If you horse is facing a long course of drug therapy, ask your veterinarian for a prescription so that you can price shop. Compare prices from human pharmacies. Contact veterinary compounders and drug suppliers to see if they will provide you with whole bottles of the medication you need for a price break. For example, if you have a horse with Lyme disease, and he’s on a long course of doxycycline, your cost may be cut in half.

Anti-Inflammatories and Pain Relief: This is probably the most frequently prescribed medication. You can’t beat the price and effectiveness of phenylbutazone. When dosed based on accurate bodyweight, and used only as it should be, there are few problems with phenylbutazone. However, there is always the potential for gastric or colonic ulcer formation. The new product Equioxx has a lower risk of this complication, but at $9 to $10 per day it’s outside the cost range for many people. The exact same drug is available as a small animal product for only $1.35/day. The inconvenience of having to crush the tablets is well worth the savings.

Antibiotics: While antibiotics should not be used on a ”just in case” basis in most instances, bacterial infections are nothing to fool around with. If you need them, use them. The best way to save on costs is to avoid automatically going with whatever the newest antibiotic is. The old standbys of penicillin, gentamicin, doxycycline, tetracycline, sulfas and trimethoprim-sulfa combinations are still effective for most infections and are much, much less expensive. Whenever possible, request a culture and antibiotic-sensitivity test be run before you begin the antibiotics. This adds to the total cost of treating the problem but can save you a lot of wasted time and money caused by using the wrong antibiotic.

Never give human antibiotics you might have left over from one of your own prescriptions. There are few antibiotics safe to use orally in a horse. There is a high risk of killing or suppressing the populations of beneficial bacteria, giving harmful forms a change to multiply. At best, the horse develops diarrhea. At worst, colic and a life-threatening colitis can result.

Allergies: The two most commonly used allergy medications, antihistamines and corticosteroids, are not terribly expensive. It’s best to stick with equine antihistamine products. Get generic oral corticosteroids. Albuterol is a more economical alternative to clenbuterol/Ventipulmin (see chart).

If your horse is using inhaled medications, be sure to comparison shop for prices.

Antihistamines: Many owners (on the advice/approval of their veterinarians) use over-the-counter Benadryl for control of allergy problems such as hives (usual dose around 500 mg). However, Benadryl or its generic equivalent, diphenhydramine, can cause excessive drowsiness.

The manufacturers of the equine anithistamine product Tri-Hist add pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, which is a decongestant but also has mild stimulatory properties that help avoid the antihistamine fog. This drug is also available over-the-counter as the original Sudafed formulation (check the package label for ingredients). If your vet approves, the dosage is 500 to 600 mg.

Note: As a rule, it’s best to stick with equine-specific products for antihistamines. In addition to drowsiness, some antihistamines can cause GI upset/colic, or even stimulation. The equine products are also less expensive.

Bottom Line

There’s nothing wrong with asking your veterinarian for a prescription so you can shop around for prices. But don’t be foolish: Get at least the initial dose directly from him or her so you can begin treatment immediately.

Article by Eleanor Kellon, VMD, our Veterinary Editor. She has extensive experience with high-performance horses. With her husband, she breeds, races and trains Standardbred harness horses in Pennsylvania. She has written countless articles and several books, including ”The Older Horse.”