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Supplements for Pain Relief in Horses

Information in this article should not to be used in place of professional veterinary diagnosis or advice. Please consult your horse's veterinarian prior to administering any medication or supplement to your horse.

Pain is nature's way of telling a body that something is wrong, and it is designed to make the body slow down to allow time for healing. Pain is caused by nerve endings becoming irritated, often by pressure created as injured tissues become inflamed with fluid. Inflammation, in turn, is caused by the body sending blood with oxygen and disease--fighting cells for healing. Inflammation can result from acute injury or long-term overuse and damage. Reducing inflammation usually provides some degree of pain relief.

If your horse exhibits symptoms of pain, consult a veterinarian for help in identifying the cause of it. This step is important for developing a way to help your horse with either acute or chronic pain. If you simply mask symptoms of pain--the body's signal for help--without addressing the cause, more extensive damage may occur to the body.

Natural substances or herbs with anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties may make your horse feel more comfortable if faced with the aches and soreness of arthritis or injury. These substances are said to be helpful when a horse needs long-term pain management, but where the use of prescription drugs designed to target pain and inflammation, such as Phenylbutazone and Equioxx for Horses, are not recommended because of their side effects. Like prescription drugs, natural substances may help to reduce inflammation and provide analgesic effects if dosed correctly. However, as with any medication or supplement, they will produce varied results in different individuals.

Along with prescription, nutritional and herbal pain relief methods available today, some innovative products are intended to reduce inflammation that causes pain. See the topic Pain Therapies for Horses for more information. In the presence of joint deterioration and arthritis, supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin may complement either prescription solutions or herbal substances as they address the underlying deterioration of the joints that causes the pain.

Important Cautions:

  • Consult your horse's veterinarian concerning the use of herbs in your horse.

    Note: Some natural substances should not be administered while a horse is receiving a prescription drug in order to avoid an interaction with that drug, and some may be contraindicated for certain medical conditions. For example, Devil's Claw should not be given to pregnant mares as it stimulates uterine contractions, to horses that are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or to a horse that has ulcers or is susceptible to ulcers.

    Additionally, some horses may be sensitive to some ingredients, and an allergic reaction could occur.

  • If you plan to enter a competition with your horse, check with the governing body of the competition to be sure that any natural pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory substance that you give your horse is permitted for use. The USEF web site provides a link to the current Guidelines for Drugs and Medications. Regulations change so be sure to consult the guidelines regularly.
  • As with any medication, follow dosing instructions closely for nutritional and herbal supplements, and educate yourself on potential side effects.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a sulfur compound that is found naturally in certain foods. It is used by the body to reduce pain and inflammation, such as that related to arthritis, and has been found to increase circulation. MSM, which looks like a coarse granulated white sugar but has almost no taste, is vital for the ongoing health of connective tissues, which are tendons, ligaments and muscles. MSM that is manufactured in a laboratory is virtually identical as that found in nature. You can buy pure MSM from Select and Vita-Flex and find it mixed into an array of joint and hoof supplements. See the chart provided at the end of this article to identify blended products containing MSM.

Herbal Analgesics
Common herbal analgesics such as Devil's Claw, Yucca and Boswellia can be found in various supplements for horses.

  • Devil's Claw- Taken from the root of the Harpagophytum procumbens shrub, Devil's Claw has both pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties that are useful against joint pain. It may be used for acute conditions such as injuries, stone bruises or laminitis, or for chronic or degenerative conditions such as arthritis.

  • Yucca- Taken from the yucca plant, this extract may be used to relieve joint pain and stiffness that accompanies arthritis.

  • Boswellia- Taken from the resin of a genus of trees called Boswellia, this extract may be used for its anti-inflammatory properties in the presence of stiffness and pain in connective tissues and joints.

See the chart provided at the end of this article to identify products that contain one or more of these herbs.

  • Topical products containing arnica may help a horse's sore muscles recover. Additionally, equipment that includes therapeutic benefits include Back on Track products impregnated with ceramic fibers and magnet therapy.

  • Many equestrians supplement veterinary care for pain with alternative therapies. You may want to consider chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture or acupressure or reiki for your horse, too.