Last Updated on February 11, 2023
Bute is as common in the horse world as flowers are in a garden, but many people worry about the side effects of giving their horse medication such as bute. Does bute calm a horse down, and what other effects might it have?
“Can I borrow some bute for my horse” is a commonly heard phrase both at horse shows and at horse barns, particularly show barns. Most horses will receive a dose or course of bute at some point during their lifetime, and this commonplace drug has many uses.
Bute is basically the equine equivalent of Ibuprofen (Advil, Tylenol, etc.) for people. Bute is a painkiller that can help ease your horse’s aches and pains, fevers, and sore muscles. However, but can also be detrimental if not administered properly.
Overuse of but can cause serious side effects, and it is just as important to be aware of these side effects as it is to be aware of the drug’s benefits. In this article, I’ll discuss what bute is, how it works, what it is effective in curing, and what side effects of overuse can be.
What is Bute for Horses?
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs defines but as the following:
“Phenylbutazone (Bute) is an analgesic (relieves pain) and anti-inflammatory medication, commonly used for the treatment of lameness in horses. It belongs to a group of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Phenylbutazone is available in many preparations for horses, including 1-gram tablets, oral paste syringes (containing 6 grams or 12 grams/syringe), an injectable (200 mg/ml in 100-ml vials), and oral powder.”
Bute is a powder or paste which is administered to a horse by mouth to relieve pain and discomfort. However, because of its dangerous side effects, Bute must be prescribed by your vet for you to purchase it; it is not a medicine that can be bought “over the counter.”
Bute can be an extremely helpful tool for increasing a horse’s comfort through times of injury or sickness, but it also has detrimental side effects.
Because bute is so common in the equine industry today, is important for horse owners to understand when it is appropriate to use but, and when bute can become a problem for their horses.
What is Bute For Horses Used For?
Like Ibuprofen, Bute “blocks” a horse’s pain and brings down any inflammation or swelling. It also acts to lower a horse’s temperature if a horse has a fever. Because of these characteristics, Bute is the top pick for treating many different conditions in horses.
Bute is used to treat muscular discomfort in horses, whether this simply is sore muscles from a hard day of work, or musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis, laminitis, navicular, or degenerative joint disease.
It is also used to treat infections in flesh injuries that can occur from bites, kicks, unfortunate rolls, or run-ins with the fence or a tree. Bute acts to not only reduce inflammation, but also to reduce swelling, and therefore pain in affected areas.
How Does Bute for Horses Work?
After Bute has been administered either via injection or powder in the feed, the drug works by blocking the production of chemicals called prostaglandins, which can cause pain. Bute, which is more correctly known as phenylbutazone, is a systemic medication that works on the whole body, not just the area causing pain. It blocks the pathway of the pain signal between the cause of the pain and the brain, rather than removing the cause of the pain itself.
While the action of bute does make the horse more comfortable, it can also be detrimental to other body systems. Prostaglandins cause pain but they also have important internal functions, which is why it is important to use Bute only when absolutely necessary.
When a horse is given bute, it will be metabolized by the liver, where it is processed and excreted from the horse’s body within 24 hours of consumption.
In terms of medications, this is a relatively long time for a drug to stay in a horse’s system after administration, and it is a rather long processing time. This is why it is important not to overuse bute and thereby overwhelm a horse’s liver.
Common Side Effects of Bute
Prostaglandins not only cause pain, but also have an important job of regulating blood flow to a horse’s kidneys, stomach, and gastrointestinal tract. When these prostaglandins are blocked by the use of bute, they can’t complete these jobs.
Lack of blood flow to the stomach and intestinal tract can increase risk and even cause horses to develop kidney damage or ulcers in their GI tract. If your horse is prone to either one of these conditions, it is vital to take special care when administering bute to your horse.
For example, my Thoroughbred has been prone to GI ulcers his entire life. He is on a daily supplement to support GI health, and he gets an ulcer-reducing paste every time his stress levels may increase. These instances include travel, lack of available turnout, and weather changes.
But, he is also a performance show horse. After a long day of the show, I want to make sure his muscles and joints stay relaxed and comfortable. Bute is a perfect way to do this, but I have to be extremely careful with the dosage I use. I also need to consider how many days I choose to use it. If not, he runs the risk of his GI ulcers coming back to full strength.
Can You Overdose a Horse on Bute?
It is possible to overdose a horse on Bute, and this can cause some uncomfortable and long-lasting side effects for horses. There are two different ways in which this can happen – either a one-off dose of Bute which is too high or long-term Bute administration that causes damage to various body systems.
For this reason, Bute should never be given to your horse without the advice of your veterinarian. Even a perfectly healthy horse can succumb to Bute toxicity, although this is more likely to happen in horses that suffer from underlying health conditions.
The issue with Bute toxicity is that the side effects are often long-lasting and may be irreversible. The main problem with Bute is that it restricts blood flow to the gastrointestinal system and kidneys of the horse. This can lead to ulceration of the intestines and reduced kidney function. High doses of Bute can also cause damage to the liver, which will be intensified when additional doses of Bute are administered.
Can Bute make a horse sweat?
Sweating is not a known side effect of giving Bute to horses, but there may be other reasons why a horse would sweat when given Bute. Sweating is a common sign of pain in horses, so you may notice your horse sweating more than normal if it is injured. Some other medical conditions, such as Cushing’s disease, also cause horses to sweat abnormally.
If your horse has been given Bute and starts sweating for no apparent reason, it is a good idea to contact your veterinarian for advice. Your horse may be suffering from an adverse reaction to the Bute, or there may be another undiagnosed medical problem occurring.
Can Bute cause constipation in horses?
The most common and debilitating side effect of Bute administration in horses is a condition called right dorsal colitis. This causes inflammation of the right dorsal colon, part of the large intestine. The colon is responsible for the digestion and absorption of fiber, which makes up the bulk of the horse’s diet.
So, does right dorsal colitis cause constipation in horses? No – the opposite is true! Horses that have right dorsal colitis due to Bute toxicity will not be able to absorb water and nutrients in the large intestine as efficiently, leading to diarrhea. This condition can be very debilitating for the horse and may lead to severe weight loss, dehydration, collapse, and even death.
If your horse is constipated following Bute administration, there may be other reasons for this. For the intestines to work normally, your horse needs a regular intake of fiber and water, and must also move around for the majority of the day. The gentle movement of a horse walking around a paddock helps to propel food through the intestines at a normal rate.
So, if your horse has been given Bute, the chances are that something else may have changed during their daily routine. The horse may be confined to a stable due to lameness or drinking less because of a health problem. Whatever the cause, if your horse’s fecal output does not quickly return to normal, or you notice signs of colic, it is important to seek veterinary advice.
How to Get Bute for Horses?
Bute, or phenylbutazone, for horses is a prescription-only medication. This means that you cannot walk into a store and buy it, but will need veterinary authorization first.
In the vast majority of situations, most veterinarians will need to see a horse for a full clinical examination before prescribing Bute. Don’t be annoyed if your veterinarian refuses to prescribe Bute without seeing your horse – they are doing this to fulfill a legal requirement that is necessary to keep both your horse and the human population safe.
Bute is prescribed by veterinarians at a specific dose – enough to make your horse feel more comfortable, but not so much that this potent painkiller could cause unwanted side effects. This dose is carefully calculated according to the size, age, and weight of your horse, as well as any other health problems and medication they may be receiving. The aim is to keep the dose as low as possible and the course of treatment as short as possible.
Bute must only ever be given to horses that are not intended for human consumption. This medication is extremely dangerous to humans, and traces of it can pass into the human food chain via animal meat products. In many countries, it is necessary to indicate on a horse’s records if it has ever had Bute so that it can never be used for human consumption.
Where can I buy Bute for horses?
Once you have a prescription from your veterinarian, you will have two choices of where to buy the Bute. Your veterinarian will happily supply you with this product, or you can buy it from a pharmacy that supplies animal medication – either online or in person.
For an animal pharmacy, you will need to supply a written prescription from your veterinarian to be able to obtain Bute for your horse. Your veterinarian may charge you for issuing a prescription, but many people find that online pharmacies are cheaper for purchasing larger amounts of Bute. For a shorter course, it is normally more cost effective to purchase this medication directly from your veterinarian.
How Do I Get My Horse to Eat Powdered Bute?
Horses have very finely tuned tastebuds and will detect even the slightest amount of medication in their feed. Luckily Bute has very little flavor, and most horses will eat feed containing powdered Bute without any problems.
Most people add Bute directly to their horse’s feed. When feeding Bute to a horse, take care to mix the powder carefully with the food. Feed your horse separately away from other horses, and make sure they have time to eat every last part of the food.
Another easy way to feed Bute to horses is to make a Bute sandwich. Take a slice of bread and smear it with something palatable for horses – jam or molasses work well. Sprinkle the dose of Bute onto the filling, and fold the bread in half.
The Bute sandwich can then be fed to your horse by hand. This is a quick and easy way to get Bute into a horse that lives in a herd with other horses, where it may be difficult to feed them separately. Take care to avoid sugary fillings in the Bute sandwich for horses that are overweight or are suffering from health problems such as laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, or Cushing’s disease.
Does Bute Calm a Horse Down?
Bute is a painkiller for horses, normally used to reduce musculoskeletal pain or reduce inflammation following injury. Giving bute to a horse is the same as a human taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat a painful injury. But does bute calm a horse down, or is it just a painkiller?
Bute is a systemic medication, meaning it is metabolized and distributed around the body. However, it has no effect on the brain of the horse, and will neither calm a horse down nor make it more excitable.
Does bute make horses drowsy?
Many horses worry that bute powder for horses may make their horse appear drowsy. But is there any truth in this, or is it all a myth?
Bute does not and should not make a horse appear drowsy. If your horse has been given bute and you are worried that it seems sleepy or off-color, there may be an underlying problem occurring. So, if your horse seems drowsy after a dose of bute, it is a good idea to contact your veterinarian for advice.
Are there any alternatives to bute for horses?
If you are worried about the side effects of bute, you may consider looking into a bute alternative for horses. There is no doubt that bute is a useful painkiller for horses, but the side effects of using it regularly or on a long-term basis mean that we should always look for less harmful options first.
If your horse is on bute due to a chronic musculoskeletal condition such as navicular disease or arthritis, there are many ways you can help to keep your horse comfortable without resorting to bute. This means you can save bute for when your horse really needs it, rather than giving it all the time.
For musculoskeletal conditions, particularly those affecting the joints, it is a good idea to put your horse onto a feed supplement that contains ingredients proven to help support and maintain healthy joints. Look for a product that contains ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin.
Some herbs are also known to have anti-inflammatory effects and can help keep horses with long-term painful conditions more comfortable. A popular choice is devil’s claw, which is often referred to as ‘no-bute’.
Getting the right balance of rest and exercise can also help to keep your horse comfortable without the need for painkillers. If your horse is stiff or lame after a ride, then you have possibly pushed the limits of what your horse is capable of, and should do less next time. Gentle, regular exercise can help keep your horse supple and reduce stiffness, but avoid hard or rough ground that could aggravate long-term lameness problems.
Bute can be a horse owner’s best friend, helping to keep your horse comfortable and free from pain. It is an extremely useful tool, but it must be used with caution and with the proper knowledge of its side effects.
Thankfully, Bute can only be obtained by a vet prescription. Because of this, vets will prescribe an exact dosage for your horse. There is no question as to what is an appropriate amount and what is not; your vet will define this for you and your horse.
We hope that this article helped you better understand what bute is, what it does, and what its side effects can be if used improperly. If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences (good and bad!) with using bute!
For how long can you safely give bute to a horse?
Bute is a medication given to horses as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory and is one of the most commonly used drugs for horses. Some horses require just a short course of bute for a few days, whilst others remain on it for the long-term management of chronic musculoskeletal problems.
The dosage of bute can be varied, depending on the size of the horse, weight and age. The dosage is usually 0.35-0.5 mg per kilogram of weight for a one-time dose or a daily dose of up to 1 mg/kg body weight per day.
Bute is a prescription-only medication, and should only be given to a horse if prescribed by a veterinarian. This means your vet will decide how long it is safe and necessary to give bute to your horse, minimizing the risk of any potential side effects.
Does bute calm a horse down?
Bute does not calm a horse down, but the reduction in pain may help the horse to relax and make it appear calmer. Bute helps to control pain and inflammation, which will allow the horse better rest and sleep. This in turn promotes healing from injuries sustained by the horse or from other negative stimuli sources such as environmental stressors or illness.
How quickly does bute work?
Bute can be administered by either injection or as a powder or paste given by mouth. The fastest mode of action is by intravenous injection - as soon as the injection is given, the horse usually starts showing signs of improvement within minutes and may return to normal within 20-30 minutes after injection.
Can bute cause colic?
The risk of giving bute to horses is that it can cause side effects. The most common side effect that occurs is ulceration of the intestines, which can lead to the development of colic symptoms. This is more likely to happen in horses that receive high doses of bute, or those on a long-term course for the treatment of chronic lameness problems.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.