Eight Alternatives to Bute
First of all, I’d like to start by saying that I’ve used bute (phenylbutazone) for my horses. And I will probably use it again. However, I only use bute for certain circumstances, and I will not use it for more than 2-3 days at a time. It makes me cringe when I hear of people using bute regularly for their horses. Such as to mask pain in order to keep their horses performing. Or giving it long term for conditions like arthritis or laminitis.
Bute and other NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) are not meant to be given long-term. Anyone who tells you that they are is misguided.
You see, bute works by inhibiting a class of enzymes called cyclo-oxygenases (aka COX enzymes). This, in turn, reduces inflammation. But horses actually need COX enzymes for several bodily process such as normal kidney function, protection of the intestinal lining, and blood cell production. Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process, and when we continually prevent it from occurring, we’re not doing our horse any favors.
If bute is used long-term, horses can develop gastro-intestinal ulcers or even kidney damage. Most vets recommend 3-7 days maximum, but for me, personally, three days is about all I feel comfortable with.
Interesting fact: Did you know bute was originally developed for human use (for rheumatoid arthritis) but is no longer approved because of its harmful side effects?
The good news is that there are some effective alternatives to bute which are much safer to use, especially long-term. They include:
1.) Cold: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, inflammation is often considered to be an excess Yang condition. In other words, too much heat. Cold is one of the best remedies to combat this. Whether it’s cold water hosing (hydrotherapy), ice packs or wraps, or an ice bath (often used for acute laminitis), applying something cold to the affected area is a great idea. This tends to work well for injuries of the lower limbs or hooves. It can also work for insect bites or stings, as well as swelling from wounds.
2.) Devil’s Claw: Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is a common ingredient in herbal anti-inflammatory products. When my mare, Lee Lee, tore her suspensory ligament a number of years ago, I put her on a Devil’s Claw blend for several months. Devil’s Claw contains high concentrations of a chemical called harpogoside which is a natural anti-inflammatory. The herb also has analgesic (painkilling) properties and contains several antioxidants which can speed healing.
If your horse is already dealing with gastric ulcers, however, Devil’s Claw may not be your best choice as it can increase gastric secretions.
3.) Turmeric (Curcumin) Turmeric has become increasingly popular in the last several years with many people now taking it or giving it to their pets for chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. You will also often see it listed as curcumin, as this is the active ingredient in turmeric which is sometimes extracted and sold for medicinal purposes. Turmeric comes from the underground stems of the plant, Curcuma longa, which is a member of the ginger family. This spice has been well studied in humans and has also been studied in horses. It has proven itself to be an effective anti-inflammatory. However, there is some disagreement on how turmeric should be fed to horses (in order to be most effective). Some state that turmeric alone is fine, while others say it needs to be combined with an omega 3 source (such as an oil) and black pepper.
If you plan to feed turmeric or curcumin, I would do some research and maybe play around with the dosage as well as the idea of feeding it with other ingredients. Some ready-made formulas contain a combination of ingredients, but of course, they are more expensive than just plain turmeric!
4.) Capsaicin Topical Cream: Capsaicin is the chemical compound that makes chili peppers hot. It is also good for reducing inflammation. It works by depleting one of the chemical messengers that causes the sensation of pain. Human studies have shown that capsaicin effectively reduces pain from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, but capsaicin topical creams are also commonly used for animals.
Just a word of caution though: Capsaicin can cause an unpleasant sensation when first applied and should never be used under wraps or on acutely inflamed areas. It’s better suited for long-term issues such as arthritis.
5.) Bandaging: Bandaging can be used alone for more minor injuries or in conjunction with other therapies for more serious injuries. It’s something we might overlook, but the lower legs, knee, or hocks can all be bandaged to provide support, limit extreme movement, and control inflammation. If you’ve ever used a bandage for an injury, then you know that it can also reduce pain in many instances. For the hocks or knees, I would suggest a product like this one (hock) or this one (knee).
6.) Quality Joint Supplements: We shouldn’t forget about oral joint supplements like glucosamine chondroitin or hyaluronic acid when it comes to chronic inflammatory issues like osteoarthritis. One study showed glucosamine chondroitin to be to be successful in treating degenerative joint disease while Dr. Eleanor Kellon has held field trials and found certain formulas of both glucosamine chondroitin and HA to be effective in treating equine osteoarthritis (as documented in her book, Horse Journal: Guide to Equine Supplements and Nutraceuticals). The tricky part about joint supplements, however, is finding a quality supplement with a high enough dosing. Dr. Kellon’s book mentions several good options, one being Corta-Flx.
7.) Homeopathy: If you prefer to use homeopathic remedies, there are several good options including arnica and apis which can be used to treat inflammation. For a more complete list, see this article in Natural Horse Magazine.
8.) Acupressure/ Acupuncture: These modalities can be effective for both acute or long-term issues with inflammation. Acupuncture can only be performed by veterinarians (in the U.S., anyhow), but you can use an equine acupressure practitioner or learn a few points yourself if you prefer to use acupressure. Here are a few points I recommend for any type of inflammatory condition:
If you have other bute alternatives you like to use, feel free to tell us about them in the comments.
Sources and Further Reading: