How Safe is Bute for Horses Long-term?

Updated June 19, 2023
clicking hock joint in horse cantering

“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 (NSAID).

Many owners of horses with osteoarthritis will give their horses bute every day to ease stiffness and pain. However, bute can have harmful side effects on both the horse’s gastrointestinal system and the kidneys. Therefore, it is recommended to consider other, safer methods to help control pain or joint discomfort instead of administering bute long-term.

Alternatives to Giving Horses Bute Long-term

It’s important to consider all aspects of your horse’s management and consult your veterinarian to figure out a situation that makes your horse comfortable and keeps you in the saddle as long as possible.

Management Recommendations

  • Light daily exercise.
  • Reduce repetitive activities, such as lunging on a small circle.
  • Include long warm-ups and cool-downs.
  • Have him turned out in pasture as much as possible to encourage movement.
  • Corrective shoeing.
  • Keep your horse at his ideal body condition score so he’s not packing unnecessary pounds.
  • Consider cutting back on the level of difficulty in your horse’s training.

Prescription Medications or Regenerative Therapies

Your veterinarian may recommend putting your horse on a regimen of prescription medications for long term treatment and management. Talk with your veterinarian about joint injections (steroids), intramuscular injections (IM, such as Adequan®), and/or a hyaluronic acid product (like Legend®) which may be helpful.

An alternative to steroids that have a longer duration of action are biologic or regenerative therapies. These are products derived from your horse’s own blood or tissue and include PRP (platelet-rich plasma), IRAP (interleukin receptor antagonist protein), ProStride® (a combination of PRP and IRAP), and stem cells.

Supplements That May Support a Normal Inflammatory Response

ingredient in joint supplement

Consider some non-prescription ingredients commonly included in joint supplement formulas to help manage the discomfort associated with your horse’s condition, such as:

  • MSM
  • Collagen
  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin sulfate
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Cetyl Myristoleate
  • Herbs such as devil’s claw, turmeric, yucca, jiaogulan, 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.

Supplementing with the joint’s natural building blocks (glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid) has not only been shown to help in the normal production of cartilage and joint fluid, but also inhibits enzymes that cause tissue breakdown and destruction. To learn more about research-backed joint health formulas, read this article on understanding ingredients in your horse’s joint supplements.

Non-Invasive Therapies

PEMF therapy being performed with a magna wave device on the back of a palomino pony.
PEMF therapy being performed through a magna wave.

Non-invasive alternative treatments may be beneficial in reducing pain and inflammation while improving range of motion. Some options for alternative therapies include:

Hopefully by combining a variety of treatments, you might need bute or other NSAIDs only occasionally if your horse’s arthritis flares up!

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.