Bute for Horses: Benefits, Risks, & Alternative Pain Remedies


Phenylbutazone, generally referred to as Bute, is a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication commonly used for horses. Bute is one of the most commonly prescribed medications given to horses because of the general pain relief it provides. 

Because it is so frequently given, it’s important for horse owners to understand what the medication is, the proper dosage for horses, how to administer it, as well as its possible side effects. 

We all hate seeing our horses in pain. But as with all medications, there are pros and cons, and horse owners should weigh the risks and benefits prior to giving their horse Bute. In this article, we will cover the appropriate use and dosage, as well as alternative pain-relieving methods.

Equine Vet Does a Check Up on a Horse in Pain

Disclaimer: Savvy Horsewoman shares from experience and ample research for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical/veterinary advice. Please consult your veterinarian for concerns related to your horse. 

What is Bute? 

Bute is a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication used for pain relief (analgesic) and to reduce inflammation. Bute comes in three forms—a powder, oral paste, and injectable.

Injectable forms are generally administered by a veterinarian, but paste and powders can be given by the horse owner. The powder form can be added to grain and is the most cost-effective way to give horse Bute over several days.

What is Bute used for? 

Phenylbutazone (Bute) for horses is commonly used for pain management generally associated with lameness, musculoskeletal injuries, navicular syndrome, and arthritis. Similar to Motrin or Advil for humans, Bute provides temporary relief and aids in the healing process.

Bute is generally given on a short-term basis for pain relief due to an injury. For long-term issues, such as navicular syndrome and arthritis, it can be a reasonably safe medicine to help reduce stiffness and pain in your horse. 

Most veterinarians recommend a two-to-three-week trial period of daily Bute for a long-term candidate to determine how effective it is. As an NSAID, Bute does have side effects, and it is important to weigh those prior to committing to a long-term treatment plan of daily Bute for your horse.

Bandaging a Horse Leg

Pain Management in Horses  (Medications, Natural Remedies, and Alternative Practices) 

1. When Bute is Appropriate

Horse owners should always use their best judgment and follow their veterinarian’s recommendations when it comes to treating an injury and administering medication. Bute is a very effective tool for horse owners who are aware of the risks, know the proper way to use it, and administer it only as needed. In general, if you are not seeing an improvement within 3-7 days, you’ll likely need to look for an alternative or seek out a different diagnosis for what is causing the issue.

2. How to Administer Bute 

Bute is available in three forms—paste, powder, and injectable. Most horse owners will keep either paste or powder in their emergency kit. Veterinarians generally give the injectable version. Bute paste is a good option for horse owners in need of a quick pain reliever, but are not anticipating needing it for several days. 

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vet administering horse bute

A tube of Bute paste is dosed out with multiple doses. Powder is the cheapest variation and can be added on top of grain or mixed with applesauce to encourage your horse to eat it. Always follow the prescribed dosage for your horse. Bute dosage for horses is generally between 1-2 grams per day depending on the injury.  

3. Other Equine Pain Medications

Just like people, some horses cannot tolerate certain pain relievers. There are several NSAID options for horses needing pain relief or anti-inflammatory properties that cannot be given Bute, including Banamine, Ketofen, and Equioxx. Each of these medications has benefits and risks. As always, consult your veterinarian for help determining the best pain management path for your horse.

4. Bute vs. Banamine 

Bute and Banamine are often viewed as the same or similar medication. While they are both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), they are used in slightly different situations. Bute is given to horses with musculoskeletal pain, arthritis, or navicular syndrome while Banamine is commonly given for colic or eye injuries such as corneal ulcers. 

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5. Over-the-Counter “Bute” Options

There are also several options for over-the-counter “Bute” for horses, like Bute-Less or Bio-Bute (All Natural). Speak to your veterinarian and discuss your horse’s particular needs and issues in order to determine the best medicinal approach. 

6. Herbal/Natural Alternatives 

Some horse owners prefer natural alternatives to prescription medications, especially if they need long-term pain management or have a horse with gastric problems. 

There are several well-known herbal alternatives that provide similar benefits as Phenylbutazone, including Devil’s Claw, Turmeric, and Capsaicin. 

  • Devil’s Claw contains a natural anti-inflammatory chemical, harpagoside, in very high concentrations. Devil’s Claw also has painkilling properties and contains antioxidants to help with the healing process. There are several commercial suppliers of Devil’s Claw and you can purchase it in several forms. Be advised that it shouldn’t be fed to pregnant mares and that some competitive sports may not allow it (e.g. Dressage). 
  • Turmeric is a member of the ginger family and has seen a significant uptick in the culinary space over the past 10 years. Through its use in foods and medicine for humans, we have seen the proven effects of its anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric should be given with a good source of omega 3 to help with absorption. 
  • Capsaicin Topical Cream is made from the same compound that makes chili peppers so spicy. Capsaicin reduces inflammation and has been shown to reduce pain in humans and animals. This cream is good to use in a specific location for long-term issues. Never use wraps over the cream as it can cause an unpleasant sensation for your horse. 

7. Liniments + Rubs 

Liniments come in liquids or gels and can be applied to help reduce pain, stiffness, and soreness in your horse. Many horse owners will routinely apply liniment to their horse after a workout as a preventative measure against soreness (We like this liniment the best!). 

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There are many commercially available liniments and most are a combination of therapeutic ingredients such as Calendula, Echinacea, Wormwood herbs, and Caipcasin. Many have a distinct medicinal or spearmint smell which some horses do not like.

Most liquid liniments should be diluted in a bucket of water and applied with a sponge. This allows you to cover a larger area on the horse quickly. Gel liniments can be applied directly to the horse without being diluted and are a good choice if you don’t have easy access to water. Gel liniments are ideal for targeting very specific, smaller areas on the horse. 

8. Cold Therapy

Cold therapy has been proven to be very beneficial for pain management and to reduce swelling. For horses suffering from lameness issues, cold hosing, soaking their legs in ice water, or cold fusion therapy can help significantly. 

Inflammation is very common in soft tissue injuries and cold therapy applied to the area shortly after injury can help decrease the blood flow and minimize further damage to the tissue.  Cold therapy also helps to reduce pain in the area. 

You want to apply cold (either with a bucket or hose) 2-3 times per day for 10-15 minutes during the first 48 hours after the injury. This frequent “icing” will help keep the blood flow to the injured area down. You do not have to apply icy cold water. Any reduction in temperature compared to the injured area will be beneficial. 

9. Bandaging

Providing support and compression can also be beneficial for lameness and leg injuries. Applying a standing wrap while your horse is in the stall can help reduce movement to the injured area, provide support, and some compression to help decrease swelling. 

Using a pillow bandage and wrap, secure the pillow around the affected area and apply the wrap. Be sure to check the tension on the wrap to ensure it is not too tight (cut off circulation) or too loose (risks coming undone). 

Pillow Bandage on a Horse Leg
Pillow bandaging is a beneficial pain management tool for leg injuries and lameness.

Medicine boots can be a good alternative for providing support and compression if you are not comfortable applying a standing wrap. Most tack supply stores will carry a few medicine boot options to pick from.

If you are applying a cream or poultice under the wrap, make sure it will not cause adverse effects from being wrapped. Check the packaging of the cream or poultice if you are unsure as some topicals will get hot when wrapped. While heat has therapeutic benefits in some cases, immediately after injury ice has been proven more beneficial.

Pros & Cons of Using Bute

1. The Benefits of Using Bute for Your Horse 

Pain management and inflammation reduction are key elements to the healing process. Bute can help speed up the healing process and provide comfort to your horse while they are recovering from an injury. When used responsibly, it is certainly a wonderful tool for horse owners.

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2. Side Effects

Side effects of Bute can include gastric ulceration, kidney and liver damage, and occasionally colitis. Most of these side effects are seen with long-term use when too much is given, or in horses with pre-existing gastric conditions. If your horse has a history of ulcers, you may want to consider an alternative pain management option.

3. Risks of Using Bute

There are many benefits to using Bute. However, if your horse is prone to any gastric issues, bleeding disorders or renal conditions, administering it is likely to exacerbate these issues. Some veterinarians will recommend a full blood panel be completed prior to administering the medication to ensure the horse has no underlying issues.

4. Horses at Higher Risk While Using Bute 

Bute is not an ideal pain management tool for horses with pre-existing bleeding disorders, gastrointestinal ulcers, or renal conditions. It will often cause more issues in horses with these conditions. Consider an alternative medication or natural option if your horse is prone to any of these.

5. How Much is Too Much Bute?

As we’ve discussed, Bute does have beneficial short and long-term uses, however, there is such a thing as too much. Giving a horse too much will bring on negative side effects very quickly. Unless specifically prescribed by a veterinarian, you should not give more than 4 grams of Bute per day.

FAQ’s

1. What does Bute do for horses?

Bute is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) for pain management and reducing inflammation. 

2. How much Bute do you give a horse?

Most horses are given between 1-2 grams per day depending on the injury. You should not exceed 4 grams per day unless specifically directed by your veterinarian. 

3. How long can you safely give Bute to a horse?

For short-term use, most veterinarians will prescribe Bute for 3-7 days. Long-term use can be daily and does come with risks.

4. Can you give Bute to a horse every day?

Horses can be given Bute long-term for certain issues including arthritis and navicular syndrome. There are risks with long-term use, but in some cases, the benefits will outweigh the risks.

5. Do you need to get Bute from the vet?

Yes, it is a prescription medication available from a licensed veterinarian.

6. What is Equipalazone for horses?

Equipalazone is a brand-name medication containing Phenylbutazone. 

7. What is the cheapest form of Bute?

Powdered form is the cheapest way to administer Bute. Add it on top of grain or mix it with applesauce to encourage your horse to eat it.

Most Common Remedies for Horse Pain
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Phenylbutazone (Bute) is a wonderful pain management tool for horse owners to learn about and have on hand. When used responsibly, it can help reduce pain and swelling and speed up the healing process after an injury. There are risks to giving your horse Bute, especially long-term, but often the benefits gained are more important for the horse’s comfort. 


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