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How Safe Is Bute Long Term?

Is it safe to give my 15yr TB Phenylbutazone long term? He has arthritis in the coffin joint. He also had a steroid injection and is on Adequan. He gets 2 grams of bute each day. Thanks! – Dori


“Bute” or phenylbutazone, is a prescription medication that should only be given for short periods of time. Phenylbutazone is classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, for short, and it has harmful effects on both the GI system and the kidneys. So let’s look at other methods to help control pain in your horse and keep his arthritis from getting worse that will keep you in the saddle for as long as possible!

First, make sure you’re managing him correctly: light daily exercise, little repetitive activities such as lunging, long warm-ups and cool-downs, as much turnout as possible, corrective shoeing, and an ideal body condition score so he’s not packing unnecessary pounds. If you jump, ride upper level dressage, or participate in other high demand sports like western reining or endurance, you may want to cut back on the difficulty.

Next, consider some non-prescription ingredients to help manage the discomfort associated with your horse’s condition such as MSM, omega-3 fatty acids, the omega-9 fatty acid cetyl myristoleate, and herbs such as devil’s claw, yucca and boswellia. Note: if you compete, you need to check your organization’s drugs and medications rules. Some ingredients are restricted or even outright prohibited. Don’t forget to supplement with as many of the joint’s natural building blocks (glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid) as you can afford. These ingredients have not only been shown to help in the normal production of cartilage and joint fluid, they may also inhibit enzymes that cause tissue breakdown and destruction.

It sounds like your veterinarian already has your horse on a regimen of joint injections (steroids) and intramuscular injections (Adequan). Ask if a hyaluronic acid product like Legend might also be helpful, and if other treatments such as acupuncture, shock wave therapy, passive range of motion exercises or magnetic therapy might help your horse. Hopefully by combining a variety of treatments, you might need “bute” or some other NSAID (as well as some traditional cold therapy) only occasionally if his arthritis flares up.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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7 comments on “How Safe Is Bute Long Term?
  1. Sarah says:

    It was recommended to me by a vet that I try my mare on 1 gram of bute a day to manage inflammation of the third eye lid that causes her eyes to water constantly. The previous owner had her on that dosage for the entire time that she owned her (about two years). When I asked around about it nobody seemed particularly concerned about any long term effects. Is it safe to give a low dose of bute? No other treatment seems to have helped the eye watering.

  2. nina says:

    Smartpak has a great product that has boswellia, yucca and a few others, it’s SmartFlex Rehab.
    I use it for my 17 year old, who also has severe arthritis. he also has bone spurs and ring bone. It has helped a lot!
    Also, ask your vet about Previcox. It’s not as harsh on their systems and can be given long term.
    you can also still give them a dose of bute if you plan on doing something extreme or a longer ride then normal.

    • Michelle says:

      I’ve heard really good things about Previcox working for long term use.

      • Molly says:

        After major orthopedic surgery, we put my guy on 1/4 of the big dog tabs a day for pain management, and he did great! Before the surgery, he was on 1g bute daily for about 2 mionths and was almost rejected for surgery because his liver levels were off. He doesn’t seem to mind the barbecue flavor!

  3. M Forney says:

    My PerchxTB had some averse effects from being on Bute for only 2 months. There were no outlying symptoms to it, but they popped up on a blood test when we took him for arthrodesis surgery. He had low blood protein levels, nearly so low they were worried about performing the surgery. By the time he left the equine hospital, his blood protein had popped back up to normal levels, and we have had him on Previcox since. He gets 1/4 of a big tab in his grain daily, and he has been progressing well since. He is a big boy (1400lbs), and the 1/4 tab works well. Much easier to give than the Equiox paste!

  4. Christine B. says:

    My 26yo TB has been on Previcox for a year now, to manage his arthritis. He takes about 120mg per day- one half of the larger pill. It has been a lifesaver for him, literally, because he was so sore, it was getting hard for him to get up. Previcox is not a magic bullet- there are potential complications, such as liver failure, but in an older horse who cannot take bute, it has given him a new lease on life.

  5. Emma says:

    My 13yr old event horse who has had a past tendon injury is given Buteless or BL pellets it also comes in a liquid. BL is a natural form of Bute and does the same job of reducing swelling it is legal in all disciplines as it is not a drug. It is fed daily as a supplement and builds up to a therapeutic level in the horses system. Using I see a clear difference in his movement and he is less sore after hard work outs and events. His swelling in his leg has also improved greatly.

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