Just Because It's Common, Doesn't Mean It's Harmless ...
If you own horses, you have most likely heard of and/or used “bute.” Bute (or Phenylbutazone) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (much like ibuprofen) that can be an incredibly useful tool to combat inflammation and help reduce pain in horses. It’s easy to administer, cheap, and quite effective. Since bute is so commonplace, it’s easy to forget that this drug is by prescription only from your veterinarian. The reason for this has to do with the risk for toxicity. A toxicity that can be fatal.
Horses affected by bute toxicity can exhibit signs of serious disease of the gastrointestinal tract and the kidneys. Signs can be subtle such as inappetence, depression, colic (pawing, laying down more frequently, rolling), soft to loose manure, or even an increased frequency in urination. Horses severely affected can become listless, severely dehydrated, have liquid manure, and can even have deep ulcerations on their tongue, mouth, and the rest of their gastrointestinal tract. Once horses have signs this severe, they require intensive hospitalized care and have a poor prognosis for survival.
Now, most horses that become affected by Bute toxicity have received doses that exceed the range of what is recommended. However, toxicity can and will occur in horses receiving doses within the recommended range (with foals, ponies, and dehydrated horses being more susceptible). In fact, studies have shown that horses given the high end of the recommend dose range for two weeks will develop some degree of gastrointestinal ulceration. With the potential for these complications with its use, it is no wonder that this drug is by prescription only.
Bute can be a great drug for your horse and may be just what your horse needs to get him/her on the road to good health. Just remember that any usage of bute should be prescribed by a veterinarian so that the drug is used responsibly and toxicity avoided.
If you have any questions regarding Bute and its use, please contact Badger Equine Veterinary Services at (608)-754-1888.