Bute for Horses: Complete Guide to its Uses, Benefits, and Risks

Phenylbutazone, commonly known as “bute,” is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used in horses to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. This powerful drug is widely used in the equine world for various conditions, including musculoskeletal injuries, navicular syndrome, arthritis, and more.

In this article, we will explore the history, benefits, drawbacks, and alternatives to bute in the context of equine care and treatment.

What is Bute?

Bute, or phenylbutazone, is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly used in horses for pain relief and to reduce inflammation. It works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals responsible for causing pain, fever, and inflammation in the body.

Bute for Horses

History of Bute Use in Horses

Phenylbutazone was first synthesized in 1949 and initially used as a pain-relief medication in humans. However, due to its severe side effects in some people, its use was later limited to animals, particularly horses. Over the years, bute has become a staple medication in the equine industry for its effectiveness in relieving pain and inflammation.

Comparison with other NSAIDs such as aspirin, Advil, and Banamine

Bute is not the only NSAID available for pain relief in horses. Other NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and flunixin meglumine (Banamine), can also be used. However, bute remains the most commonly used NSAID in horses due to its potency and relatively low cost.

Each NSAID has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to consult a veterinarian to determine the most appropriate medication for your horse’s specific condition.

Conditions Treated with Bute

Musculoskeletal injuries:

Bute is commonly used to treat musculoskeletal injuries in horses, such as strains, sprains, and tears in muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These injuries can result from overexertion, trauma, or accidents during exercise, training, or competition.

Bute helps alleviate pain and inflammation associated with these injuries, promoting healing and allowing the horse to recover more comfortably.

Navicular syndrome:

Navicular syndrome is a chronic, painful condition affecting the navicular bone and related structures in the horse’s foot. It can lead to lameness and decreased performance in affected horses.

Bute is often prescribed to manage the pain and inflammation associated with navicular syndrome, providing relief and improving the horse’s comfort and mobility.


Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects horses of all ages, but it’s more common in older horses. It involves the progressive deterioration of joint cartilage, leading to pain, inflammation, and reduced mobility.

Bute is frequently used to treat horses with arthritis, as it helps reduce joint inflammation and provides pain relief, improving the horse’s overall quality of life.


Laminitis is a severe inflammation of the sensitive laminae within the horse’s hoof, leading to extreme pain and potentially permanent damage if not treated promptly. Bute is often prescribed to manage the pain and inflammation associated with laminitis, providing relief to the affected horse and supporting the recovery process.

Post-surgical pain management:

Following surgical procedures, horses may experience significant pain and inflammation. Bute can be used as part of a post-surgical pain management plan, helping to alleviate discomfort and promote healing during the recovery period.

Other conditions where pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects are needed:

In addition to the conditions mentioned above, bute can be prescribed for various other situations where pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects are required. This may include dental procedures, fractures, and infections, among others.

It is crucial to consult with a veterinarian to determine if bute is the appropriate treatment option for your horse’s specific needs and to ensure proper dosage and administration.

Forms of Bute

1. Tablets:

Bute is available in tablet form, which is an oral medication that can be administered directly to the horse or mixed with their feed. Tablet forms of bute are typically available in different strengths, such as 1 gram or 1/4 gram, allowing for easy customization of the dosage based on the horse’s weight and the severity of their condition.

It’s important to follow the veterinarian’s dosage recommendations when administering bute in tablet form.

2. Gel:

Bute gel, also known as phenylbutazone paste, is another oral form of medication that can be administered directly into the horse’s mouth using a pre-filled syringe. The gel formulation allows for easy and accurate dosing and is often more palatable for horses, making it a popular choice among horse owners.

Like tablets, the dosage of bute gel should be determined by a veterinarian based on the horse’s specific needs.

3. Injectable forms:

Bute for horses is also available in injectable forms, which can be administered intravenously (IV) or intramuscularly (IM) by a veterinarian or trained professional. Injectable bute offers rapid pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects, making it a suitable option for horses experiencing severe pain or requiring fast-acting relief.

However, injectable bute should be used with caution, as it has a higher risk of side effects compared to oral forms.

Dosage and Administration

Recommended dosages for various conditions

The dosage of bute depends on the specific condition being treated and the individual horse’s weight. It’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate dosage for your horse.

Typically, bute is administered at a rate of 2.2 mg per pound of body weight per day for the first few days, followed by a maintenance dose of 1.1 mg per pound of body weight per day. The dose can be adjusted according to the severity of the condition and the horse’s response to the medication.

Importance of consulting with a veterinarian for proper dosage and administration

It’s essential to work closely with a veterinarian when using bute for your horse. The veterinarian can help you determine the proper dosage, administration method, and duration of treatment for your horse’s specific condition.

Overdosing or prolonged use of bute can lead to severe side effects, so it’s crucial to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely.

Benefits of Bute for Horses

Pain relief:

One of the primary benefits of bute for horses is its ability to provide effective pain relief. Bute, as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals responsible for causing pain and inflammation in the body.

By reducing pain, bute allows horses to recover more comfortably from injuries, surgeries, or chronic conditions, and helps them maintain their normal activities.

Anti-inflammatory effects:

In addition to pain relief, bute also possesses potent anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is a natural response to injury or illness, but when it becomes chronic or excessive, it can lead to further damage and discomfort.

Bute helps to reduce inflammation in the affected areas, promoting healing and reducing the risk of further complications. This is especially beneficial for horses suffering from conditions like arthritis or navicular syndrome, where inflammation plays a significant role in the progression of the disease.

Improved quality of life for horses with chronic conditions:

For horses dealing with chronic pain or long-term inflammatory conditions, bute can significantly improve their quality of life. By providing consistent pain relief and reducing inflammation, bute enables horses to maintain their mobility, engage in regular exercise, and participate in their usual activities without experiencing constant discomfort.

This not only contributes to better overall health and well-being but also promotes a stronger bond between the horse and its owner, as the horse is more comfortable and able to interact without pain.

Drawbacks and Side Effects

Possible side effects in horses:

While bute is generally effective and safe for use in horses, it can have some potential side effects. These may include gastrointestinal issues such as ulcers, colic, or diarrhea, as well as kidney and liver damage in some cases. Other side effects can include allergic reactions, blood clotting disorders, and bone marrow suppression.

It is essential to monitor your horse for any signs of these side effects while using bute and to consult with your veterinarian if you notice any adverse reactions.

Contraindications and precautions:

Bute should be used with caution in certain situations and may not be suitable for all horses. It is contraindicated in horses with pre-existing kidney or liver problems, as well as those with a history of gastrointestinal ulcers or bleeding disorders.

Additionally, bute should be used with caution in pregnant or lactating mares, as its safety in these situations has not been fully established.

Long-term use concerns:

While bute can be highly beneficial for managing pain and inflammation in horses, long-term use may lead to some concerns. Prolonged use of bute can increase the risk of gastrointestinal ulcers and kidney or liver damage.

To minimize these risks, it is crucial to use the lowest effective dose of bute for the shortest duration possible and to work closely with your veterinarian to monitor your horse’s health during treatment.

Alternatives to Bute for horses

Other NSAIDs and pain-relief medications

In some cases, horses may not respond well to bute or may require a different type of pain relief. Several alternative NSAIDs and pain-relief medications are available for use in horses, including:

Flunixin meglumine (Banamine): This NSAID is commonly used to manage pain, fever, and inflammation in horses, particularly for colic and musculoskeletal issues. It is available in injectable and oral paste forms and should only be used under veterinary supervision.

Meloxicam (Metacam): Another NSAID used in horses, meloxicam is primarily prescribed for treating osteoarthritis and other painful inflammatory conditions. It is available in oral suspension and injectable forms.

Firocoxib (Equioxx, Previcox): Firocoxib is a selective COX-2 inhibitor, which means it targets specific enzymes responsible for inflammation and pain while causing fewer side effects. It is mainly used for managing osteoarthritis pain in horses and is available as an oral paste, tablet, or injectable solution.

Aspirin: Though not as commonly used in horses as other NSAIDs, aspirin may be prescribed for short-term pain relief in some cases, such as for fever reduction or mild pain. It should be used with caution and only under veterinary guidance, as it can cause gastrointestinal side effects.

Non-pharmaceutical approaches to pain management in horses

In addition to alternative medications, there are several non-pharmaceutical approaches that can help manage pain and inflammation in horses. These complementary therapies can be used alone or in conjunction with NSAIDs and other pain-relief medications:

Cold and heat therapy: Applying cold packs or ice to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and pain, while heat therapy can help relax muscles and increase blood flow, promoting healing.

Physical therapy: Targeted exercises, stretching, and range-of-motion activities can help improve joint function, muscle strength, and overall mobility in horses experiencing pain or stiffness.

Massage: Therapeutic massage can help alleviate muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation in horses dealing with pain.

Chiropractic care: Chiropractic adjustments can help restore proper alignment and function in the horse’s musculoskeletal system, reducing pain and promoting overall well-being.

Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese medicine practice involves inserting thin needles at specific points on the horse’s body to stimulate healing, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain.

Nutritional supplements: Certain supplements, such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help support joint health and reduce inflammation in horses with arthritis or other painful conditions.

Where to Purchase Bute?

Local feed stores

Bute for horses can often be found at local feed stores that carry veterinary medications. It’s essential to ensure you have a valid prescription from your veterinarian before purchasing bute.

Online retailers

There are many online retailers that offer bute for sale, often at competitive prices. However, be cautious when purchasing medications online and ensure the retailer is reputable and requires a valid prescription.

Horse supply stores

Specialized horse supply stores may also carry bute, along with a wide range of other equine medications and health care products. As with any medication, it’s important to have a valid prescription from your veterinarian before purchasing bute.

Responsible Use of Bute

Importance of working with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment

It’s crucial to work closely with your veterinarian when considering bute for horses. The veterinarian can help determine the appropriate diagnosis, dosage, and treatment plan to ensure your horse receives the best possible care and minimize the risk of side effects.

Monitoring for side effects and adjusting treatment as needed

If your horse is receiving bute, it’s essential to monitor them closely for any signs of adverse effects. If you notice any changes in your horse’s behavior, appetite, or overall health, consult with your veterinarian immediately.

They may recommend adjusting the bute dosage or considering alternative treatments to better manage your horse’s condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for bute to start working with horses?

Bute typically starts working within one to two hours after administration. Its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects can last for about 12 to 24 hours, depending on the dosage and individual horse’s response.

Can I give my horse bute without a prescription?

No, bute is a prescription medication and should only be given to your horse under the guidance of a veterinarian. Administering bute without a prescription can lead to inappropriate dosing, which may result in serious side effects or complications for your horse.

Can I give bute to pregnant or nursing mares?

It is not recommended to give bute to pregnant or nursing mares without consulting your veterinarian. There is limited information on the safety of bute in pregnant or nursing mares, and it is essential to weigh the potential risks and benefits before administering any medication to these animals.

Can I give my horse bute with other medications?

It’s crucial to consult your veterinarian before giving your horse any additional medications while they are receiving bute. Combining bute with other medications, especially other NSAIDs or corticosteroids, can increase the risk of side effects and complications.

How should I store bute?

Bute should be stored at room temperature, away from moisture and heat. Keep the medication in its original container and out of the reach of children and pets.

What should I do if my horse misses a dose of bute?

If your horse misses a dose of bute, give the missed dose as soon as you remember. However, if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue with the regular dosing schedule.

Do not give a double dose to make up for the missed one. If you’re unsure about what to do, consult your veterinarian for guidance.

Is bute safe for all horses?

Bute is generally safe for most horses when used as directed by a veterinarian. However, some horses may be more sensitive to the drug or have pre-existing conditions that can increase the risk of side effects.


Phenylbutazone, or bute, is a powerful NSAID used to treat pain and inflammation in horses. While it offers many benefits, such as pain relief, anti-inflammatory effects, and improved quality of life for horses with chronic conditions, it’s essential to be aware of the potential drawbacks and side effects associated with its use.

By working closely with a veterinarian and responsibly using bute, horse owners can effectively manage their horse’s pain and inflammation while minimizing the risk of adverse effects. Always remember the importance of proper diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing monitoring to ensure the best possible care for your equine companion.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *