How to Give Medication to Your Horse

If the thought of administering medication to a recalcitrant child makes you blanch, consider the fun involved in getting a pill down the throat of a 1,000-pound horse – or worse, 10 pills, which is the normal dose of many equine antibiotics.

Even if you haven't had to give your horse a round of antibiotics, chances are you've had to stuff a phenylbutazone – commonly called bute, which is the equivalent of aspirin – in his mouth at some time. It's amazing how long those equine mouths are. Equally amazing is that no matter where in the mouth you place the pill the horse can work it back out – usually spitting it on your clothing – dissolved into mush so it can't be reused.

Over the years, I've experimented with different ways to accomplish this task with an assortment of horses. Somehow, it seems that even my mare, who will eat absolutely anything if it's even remotely near her grain, can smell a bute tablet a mile away. And, no matter how voraciously she devours her food, she can pick around the tablet and eat every other morsel of grain in the bucket, while leaving that little white beacon sitting at the bottom, mocking me.

Initially, I found that slicing a carrot or apple and wedging the pill into a slot carved into the food worked well – but that only lasted about a day.

Next, I mixed the pills with applesauce, which rated only a sniff. Then we tried molasses, corn syrup and sugar. Again, some interest was shown but not enough to get the pills down the hatch. Finally, in desperation, I resorted to the old tried-and-true method of using a syringe to pump the medication into the horse's mouth and hold his jaw shut until he swallowed.

On occasion, however, this has been difficult when the horse decides to lift his nose up to the rafters while you are doggedly holding on. Be brave, eventually you will come down.

Horsekeepers' Pill Secrets

In the meantime, several of my fellow horsekeepers have shared their secrets for getting horses to consume medication. I haven't tried them all, but I will share them on the theory that what works for one may work for another.

Medication and Feeding Time

Although most medications can be given at feeding time to take advantage of the horse's desire to eat, notable exceptions exist. Do not give trimethoprim sulfa (a common oral antibiotic) or pyremethamine (commonly used to treat EPM) at feeding, as it will reduce the peak levels and therefore the efficacy of these drugs. They simply bind to feed particles, bypassing the intestines. These antibiotics are given at least one hour before or two hours after feeding. Make a schedule and put it on a board so you have easy reference.