Prescription of Veterinary Drugs For Horses

Rhiannah de Carteret explains the rules and regulations behind regular prescription of veterinary drugs for horses such anti-inflammatories and antibiotics.

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We are getting increasing numbers of requests by owners to prescribe anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medication for their horses, without an examination of the animal first.

Whilst it seems like a nominal request, unfortunately there are big implications involved, and vets are bound by laws stipulated by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the Code of Professional Conduct.

Most of the commonly requested medications fall into the POM-V category, meaning they can only be bought directly from a Veterinary Surgeon, or with a prescription completed by a Vet. In most situations, this requires the animal to have a clinical assessment, however exceptions can be made when dispensing ongoing medications for animals deemed “under our care”.

How Is A Horse Deemed Under Your Care?

For an animal to be deemed “under our care” it must meet the following criteria:

  • The veterinary surgeon must have been given the responsibility for the health of the animal or herd by the owner or the owner’s agent.
  • That responsibility must be real and not nominal.
  • The animal or herd must have been seen immediately before prescription or recently enough or often enough for the veterinary surgeon to have personal knowledge of the condition of the animal or current health status of the herd or flock to make a diagnosis and prescribe.
  • The veterinary surgeon must maintain clinical records of that herd/flock/ individual.

A veterinary surgeon cannot usually have an animal under his or her care if there has been no physical examination; however in the case of ongoing medications, we can consider an animal to be “under our care” if we have performed a clinical examination for the relevant condition within the last 3-6 months.

For example, if we have examined and diagnosed a horse with arthritis, we can legally continue to prescribe repeat medication for this condition for 6 months after the examination. However we would not be able to prescribe medication for a different condition.

The Importance Of Carrying Out A Physical Examination

If you are a new client to us and we have not yet seen your horse, pony or donkey; we will need to examine them prior to issuing medication of any form, even if they are already on the medication. This is to ensure the medication is working properly, that the animal being treated is not suffering any side effects, and that the animal’s health is not deteriorating unnoticed.

Similarly, many clinical symptoms exhibited can mirror those of entirely different conditions. For example a snotty nose could mean anything from a viral infection to an infected tooth, a foreign body in the head, or even strangles – each requiring a different treatment, and therefore simply prescribing medication over the phone is neither legal nor in the horses best interests.

Obviously, it can be very difficult to differentiate between different conditions without a physical examination, so delaying appropriate treatment could drastically change the prognosis and long term outcome.

The RCVS guidelines also state that when prescription medications are prescribed, it should only be the minimum quantity required to treat the specific condition. This is why we cannot supply large boxes of medications such as “bute”, when a smaller volume would suffice. However in certain circumstances where the horse is on long term medication, then of course large quantities can be prescribed.

Please remember that as an owner it is an offence to supply prescription medication (such as bute or antibiotics) to another person in order for them to treat their animal, so we would discourage you from “lending” medications to friends to treat their animals, as the implications for you could be serious.

Prescription Medication and Passports

Strange as it may seem, horses, including donkeys, zebras etc. are considered to be food-producing animals in the EU.

All equines must have a passport. In their passport horses can be declared as either intended for human consumption (food- producing) or not intended for human consumption (non-food-producing).

Whether or not a horse is declared as intended for human consumption determines what medications can be administered to the animal and the records that have to be kept.

Horses treated with phenylbutazone (bute) must not enter the food chain, so their passports must be signed to declare that the animal is not intended for human consumption. This is an irreversible decision.

For phenylbutazone to be prescribed to a horse, the vet must first have checked the section which details whether or not the horse is intended for human consumption. If the horse has not been signed out, then we are unable to prescribe phenylbutazone for that horse, with no exceptions.

This can make things difficult and stressful in an emergency situation, as alternatives to bute are often a lot more expensive. Therefore, it is good practice to sign the horse out of the food chain before the need for any medication arises.

It is standard practice for vets to check this section of the passport at routine examinations such as vaccinations. If you are unsure if your horse has been signed out, then please mention it to the vet at your appointment.

Prescription of Veterinary Drugs For Horses

In summary

  • In order to dispense prescription medicine for your horse it requires either an initial examination (in the case of new problems), or to have been examined for the relevant condition within the last 3-6 months in the case of ongoing problems.
  • This is both a legal requirement on our part, but also to ensure that your horse is fit and well, and not suffering any side effects of the medication, and has not developed any new problems or deterioration which may be being masked by the medication.
  • Bute cannot be prescribed for any animal if the relevant section of the passport has not been checked by the prescribing vet and completed.

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