When a new product appears, veterinarians tend to clump into one of two groups. The first group immediately leaps on the bandwagon and embraces the new product or technique with open arms. These vets are dying to try out new things and may even actively search out cases to try the “new toy” on.
The second group of veterinarians is like a herd of Arabians. They approach the new product with eyes wide and nostrils flared. At the slightest hint of a possible problem they tend to spook away, sometimes dramatically. These vets may never switch over to a new medication or try a new technique. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” is their motto.
I, and many fellow veterinarians, actually try to follow a third path. My rule is to avoid any new medication or treatment until it has been out on the general market for at least a year.
My reasoning here is that while clinical trials do catch many of the major side effects and problems with a new medication, realistically, they can’t look at all classes of horses. A medication that works beautifully in adult Quarter Horses may cause some unusual problems in young Thoroughbreds.
Certainly, if you’re treating donkeys, mules, ponies or miniature horses you are at an added disadvantage. Basically the general equine population that takes a new medication is involved in an unofficial giant clinical trial for the first year or so.
The case of the injectable ivermectin dewormer comes to mind right away. (OK, I may be dating myself here.) But back many moons ago, ivermectin was marketed as an injectable dewormer for horses. I think the early 1980s?
The pluses were obvious: No fooling around with horses not eating their feed or spitting out paste. No fighting with horses who hated the oral paste. A quick poke and all was done—horse fully dosed, no fuss, no muss.
And then the problems appeared. Many horses developed nasty abscesses at the injection sites. The medication was generally marketed as a multi-dose vial and if truly strict sterility protocols were not followed, horses often developed infections. A few horses developed neurologic problems, possibly from ivermectin getting directly into a blood vessel.
The medication is effective as a dewormer but using an injection as a dosing method was not working out for horses (it is still used commonly in cattle and sheep with minimal problems).
So I like to wait to see how things shake out. There are exceptions to my guidelines, however. If your horse has a serious condition and the new medication offers a lifeline that could make the difference between your horse surviving or not, I would certainly try it.
For instance, if a new medication or drug protocol were put out that might stop founder in its tracks, I would definitely consider using it on a newly foundered horse. In a case like that, the risk of “newness” is overcome by the need for effective treatment.
When using a new medication or technique, it is important to keep good records so any potential problems are noted right away. Your input as the horse owner is extremely important.
You may pick up on little things during daily interactions with your horse that might be missed otherwise. This could be a small problem such as diarrhea for two days after being treated or a serious problem like a lack of coordination when being longed the day after a new medication is administered.
Adverse drug reactions can and should be reported. You and your veterinarian can both file reports with the Food and Drug Administration at http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/safetyhealth/reportaproblem/ucm055305.htm
The bottom line? Read up on new medications and treatment techniques. Keep notes on the ones that interest you. Then, a year later, follow up and see how they have fared in “the real world.”
Deb Eldredge, DVM, Contributing Veterinary Editor