A well-stocked medicine chest is an important part of any equine health-care program. But it's not enough to just have medications on hand—expired or damaged items can be ineffective or even dangerous. For the safety of your horses, sort through your supplies periodically (twice a year at least) and dispose of questionable medications. As you examine each item, ask the following questions:
• How old is it? Look for expiration and/or "use by" dates on the labels of bottles, tubes and tubs. Dispose of any medication past its expiration date. If you can't find a date on an injectable or oral preparation, and you suspect the medication is more than a year old, err on the side of caution and remove it from your kit.
• Has it been stored properly? Certain medications, such as vaccines, have very specific storage temperature requirements. Check the package insert or label information to verify that the item has been stored correctly. If you can't find the information, ask your veterinarian for storage guidelines. If the item has been stored improperly, or you aren't sure about it, get rid of it.
• Has its appearance changed? As medications break down, they can begin to look different—clear liquids may become cloudy, wound salves can change color or consistency and pills may become soft or powdery. If you notice a change in a medications appearance, it's time to replace it.
Once you've decided which medications need to be disposed of, do so carefully. Simply placing drugs in household or barn trash cans, which children or animals can get into, can be dangerous. A better option is to ask your veterinarian if he can dispose of them for you.