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Tips on Administering Medicine to a Horse

Although it is up to the veterinarian to prescribe the appropriate medication for a sick horse, it is often the job of the owner to administer it. This is not always a simple task as horses have a very developed sense of taste and smell. They have an incredible ability to detect food that has medical additives and, upon recognizing it, may refuse to eat. When giving deworming powders or other medications (such as phenylbutazone) that have been prescribed, it is essential to try to mask the taste in some way. A mash of bran or linseed is a good way of disguising the taste of a prescribed medicine. The sweet taste of molasses is excellent for covering medicines with a bitter taste. Horses are quite partial to bread, and enclosing a powder in a “sandwich” is also another useful means of getting your horse medication.

Dewormer pastes, in a pre-packed dispensing tube, are an ideal way to treat horses for worms. However, administering deworming pastes can prove to be difficult as some horses will spit the medicine up. There is nothing more annoying than seeing an expensive dose of dewormer go to waste. To avoid wasting your money, it is worth getting some help and taking a little extra time to administer the dewormer properly.

To get the horse to swallow the paste, the medication must be placed on the back of the horse’s tongue. For a right-handed person it is much easier to administer the paste to the right side of the horse’s mouth. Have another person hold the horse on the near side (use a halter and lead shank – do not use a bridle because the bit will get in the way), stand on the off (right) side of the horse, place your left hand on the side of the horse’s face with your fingers on the bridge of the nose, your thumb inside the horse’s mouth in the space behind the incisor teeth, and press against the roof of the mouth. This ensures that the horse opens its mouth. With the right hand, insert the tube, pushing the end to the back of the mouth, and press the plunger quickly. Withdraw the syringe, place your right hand under the jaw, and hold the horse’s head up until it swallows.

Cough medicines and confections can be helpful to soothe the throat of horses that have a persistent cough. Cough medicines are best administered using a syringe placed in the side of mouth and squirted to the back of the tongue. An old dewormer-paste syringe or a 20cc disposable, plastic syringe is ideal for this task. A confection is a thick paste with a glycerine molasses base, containing one or more compounds (such as potassium chlorate, friar’s balsam, or camphor) which can soothe a horse’s throat. It can be smoothed onto the back of the tongue. A wooden spatula or the back of a tablespoon is suitable, but it may be necessary to catch hold of the tongue and pull it out through the side of the mouth in order to do this. It is always important to know why a horse is coughing. If the cough is due to an allergy, cough mixtures are a waste of time. If a coughing horse has a fever or a thick nasal discharge, antibiotic treatment by a veterinarian is necessary.

Previously, patent remedies for colic were popular, though most of them were ineffective. Most were administered as drenches, using a long-necked wine bottle and holding the horse’s head up in the air. There is some danger in doing this because the horse may choke and inhale some of the liquid into its lungs. This can cause “inhalation” pneumonia which, if a large enough amount of fluid enters the lungs, can be fatal. Experienced horsemen should only attempt drenching a horse. Even then, there is still a risk of danger, especially if the horse is already distressed. If liquids are required, they are usually needed in such large volumes that it is best if they are administered by a vet using a stomach tube and pump.



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