Some horses can be challenging to sedate via an injection for example, if they are needle shy. For these horses, and for some types of management procedures, the use of oral sedation can be a useful tool.
In order for a horse to be prescribed an oral sedative, the horse must have been examined by a veterinary surgeon within the last six months and the owner is required to sign a disclaimer to confirm that they understand the risks associated with the use of oral sedation.
There are two oral ‘sedatives’ available for horses:
- Acepromazine (Relaquine/Sedaline)
- Detomidine (Domosedan Gel)
Acepromazine, also referred to as ‘ACP’, is an anxiolytic drug. This means that, although it can produce some mild sedative effects, it’s primary mode of action is to reduce the anxiety levels in the horse, thereby allowing the horse to be calmer.
ACP is given in the same way as a wormer into the mouth. The horse should be kept in a quiet, preferably darkened area for approximately 45 minutes after oral administration of acepromazine, in order that sedation can take effect. Any form of stimulation (noise, light, tactile) during that period will diminish the effects of the medication.
N.B. Care should be taken when administering acepromazine to male horses, particularly stallions and the drug should not be given to breeding stallions.
Detomidine is a sedative medication and gives a stronger and more rapid response comparative to ACP. Domosedan gel needs to be administered under the tongue and the horse needs to be in a quiet, calm environment for 30 minutes following administration for the medication to work optimally.
Due to its more potent effects, horses can become unstable and ‘wobbly’ on their feet following administration of Domosedan gel.
Safety and Handling
Both ACP and Detomidine can be absorbed by human skin.
Precautions should therefore be taken to avoid contact with the skin of any human handlers. This involves wearing gloves, replacing the sedation tube into outer packaging for disposal once used and avoiding contact with the lips of the horse.
If you are intending on using any oral sedation for a dental examination or treatment by either a vet or a dental technician and ensure that the dentist is wearing gloves after the horse has been sedated, as absorption through skin can occur whilst performing the dental procedure.
Beware – horses can still kick when sedated!
Many sedative medications can cause changes to the temperature, breathing rate and respiratory rate of the horse. Extreme caution is advised when working around horses who have been given oral sedation. Use of these medications is done so at the owner’s risk.
Please note that medications can also be excreted in the faeces for up to 48 hours. Please pick up droppings and avoid consumption of faeces by any yard dogs/cats and wildlife.
It is the responsibility of the owner to inform any persons working with the horse whilst on oral sedation that the horse is on this treatment.”
Administration Of Oral Sedatives
Please note that this form of sedation cannot be relied upon to produce a consistent effect in terms of general ‘sleepiness’ and removal of aggressive response.
Occasionally the horse or pony can in fact become more intransigent/aggressive. Therefore where potentially dangerous procedures such as clipping/mane pulling/trailer loading are carried out using this method of sedation, the operator has to accept the inherent risk. Increasing the dose does not necessarily alter the response!
This should be given in the same way as a wormer into the mouth. The horse should be kept in a quiet, preferably darkened area for approximately 30-40 minutes after oral administration of acetylpromazine, in order that sedation can take effect. Any form of stimulation (noise, light, tactile) during that period will diminish the sedative effect.
N.B. Care should be taken when administering acetylpromazine to males, particularly entire males and the drug should not be given to breeding stallions.
This gives a stronger and more rapid response but also warrants the same precautions as above (see leaflet enclosed in packet). It needs to be administered under the tongue.
N.B. Precautions should be taken to avoid contact with the handler’s skin as it can cause sedation through absorption in humans. This involves wearing gloves, replacing the tube into outer packaging for disposal and avoiding contact with the lips of the horse.
Also if you are intending on using Domosedan for the dentist ensure that the dentist is wearing gloves after the horse has been sedated, as absorption through skin can still occur.
Beware – horses can still kick when sedated!