In this age of information technology, when we don’t know something, it’s so easy to go to our phones or computers and run a quick Google search to find more information. However, Dr. Google can give you some very… interesting answers. And believe it or not, a lot of the information you find is not correct. In fact, finding the CORRECT answer to your question takes a critical eye and a small knowledge of how to do a good information search. Or you can start with your veterinarian, who is a valuable resource when it comes to information and where to go to learn more. So let’s talk about some of the misinformation you might find out there on the internet.
Pharmaceuticals vs. nutraceuticals. This is one of the most common ones seen, especially with Facebook and the ease of asking a lot of people what “medicine” to use for a certain problem. However, there is a difference between a drug and a supplement. A drug or “pharmaceutical” is a substance manufactured for medicinal purposes and is regulated by the FDA, which establishes guidelines for the quality of the product. For instance, the FDA says that in every bottle of penicillin, there is 300,000 IU per ml, is absorbed in the correct amount, and is free of contaminants. A “nutraceutical” is a substance touted to improve health. Nutraceuticals ARE NOT regulated by the FDA. While there may have been studies done by the company, there are no guarantees on the quality of the product or whether the product actually works. For instance, Cosequin® is a supplement sold under the impression that it improves joint health. No studies on Cosequin® have proven that feeding glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate actually increases joint health, but most people believe that their horses do better while on the product. So when you get online to search for medications for your horse with ulcers, know the difference between a drug and a supplement.
Both pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals may be helpful in treating certain conditions. The drug that is FDA approved to prevent and treat ulcers is omeprazole, which can be found in both Gastrogard and Ulcergard. Nutraceuticals that can aid in ulcer problems are things like Ulcershield, SmartPak®’s Smart GI Ultra, Platinum Gastric Support®, and many other herbal remedies. Many times, by using both, suffering may be prevented with cognizant use of drugs and supplements, just don’t confuse the two.
Symptoms. A lot of people have a tendency to jump on social media and say “my horse is doing this…. What does it mean and what should I do about it?” First off, a horse owner is going to put their own interpretation into an explanation, and sometimes, that interpretation is wrong. For instance, an owner might say a horse is “stretching out like he needs to pee, but nothing comes out” and interprets that as the horse having a bladder or kidney infection. However, bladder infections are rare, especially in geldings. More often, this behavior is more indicative of colic or abdominal pain. The danger here is that if you suspect he has a bladder infection, you might wait to call the vet because someone told you to give a certain supplement, versus if you aren’t sure and ask your veterinarian first, they might get you seen right away because they know that horses rarely get bladder infections. The important thing to remember is that while social media and search engines can give you valuable information, it should really be used AFTER you talk to your vet and your animal has a diagnosis.
Antibiotics. The hardest point to get across to owners is antibiotic usage. It is a terrifying notion that the bacteria we treat with antibiotics are getting resistant to the antibiotics we have available. Eventually, we may have superbugs that can’t be gotten rid of with ANY type of antibiotics. And yet, many owners come in having already demanding antibiotics for their animal, or having already put their horse on antibiotics they had at home. However, most illnesses are NOT treated with antibiotics because they’re either caused by the immune system or they’re viral in nature. Antibiotics won’t do anything in these cases except help bacteria build resistance. The other issue is that not all antibiotics treat all bacteria. Using antibiotics you have in your refrigerator or on your shelf is not the best idea because the bug you are trying to kill may not be susceptible to the antibiotic you have. The other important thing to remember is that horses are VERY sensitive to antibiotics because it changes their gut flora. Many antibiotics are not compatible in horses and can cause a life-threatening colitis. So if you put your horse on those SMZs left over from the last time he had a cut, that really limits what antibiotics we can use now that your horse has pneumonia because SMZs are one of our major culprits. The other thing to remember is that antibiotics are prescription only, meaning that your veterinarian has to see the animal before they can give you antibiotics. So don’t call your veterinarian requesting antibiotics when they haven’t seen your horse for that issue.
The important thing to remember is that your veterinarian is the best resource for what drugs (or nutraceuticals) to use to treat the particular problem your horse is having. And knowing the problem your horse is having is very important because it tells your veterinarian what treatment will work. There is nothing worse than hearing that a horse owner has been treating their lame horse for thrush for the last month when their horse was actually foundering. A month of suffering from hoof pain may have been prevented in that case if the owner had been given the correct information sooner. If you don’t know, call your veterinarian to find out if your horse needs to be seen.