How to properly administer medication to your horse

Most horse caretakers will have to administer medication to their horse at some point. When that time comes, keep these tips and considerations in mind!

Administering medication to your horse or pony correctly is important to ensure that they receive the correct dose. Not only is this a safety concern, it also helps ensure that the medication has the best chance of achieving the desired effect.

The majority of medications or preventative treatments (e.g. wormers) you will be administering to your horse yourself are via the oral route – given into the mouth. We all know how challenging it can be to get horses to comply with this, so read on for some handy tips and tricks to make your life easier when it comes to administering medication to your horse.

Adding medication to the feed

Many medications can be added directly to your horse’s feed – assuming she’s not too suspicious or fussy! Tricks which may help you to get your horse to eat medicine in her feed include:

  • Dampening a feed can help powdered medicine to stick so it doesn’t get left behind in the bucket
  • Adding apple juice, molasses or carrot mash can sweeten a feed and help disguise the taste of any medication (often it has a bitter flavor)
  • Giving medication in a small volume of the horse’s usual feed will help you to know if she’s eaten all of the medication – she can then go on to eat the remainder of her usual feed once you know the required dose has been consumed
  • Hiding medication in a treat – for small volumes of powdered medication or a small number of tablets, sometimes hollowing out a carrot or apple can be helpful

Mixing a paste

If you are making up a paste to syringe the medicine directly into your horse’s mouth, try to make the paste relatively thick — it can be very easy for a horse to spit a thin paste straight out! Mix the powder with the smallest amount of water possible. Alternatively, use applesauce or even custard as the base to create a good consistency. Applesauce or custard may also disguise the taste and improve compliance! Below are steps to follow when administering medication via a syringe:

  1. Use a wide-tipped dosing syringe – ask your veterinarian for one if you don’t have one available.
  2. Give the syringe a good shake immediately before administering the medicine.
  3. Ensure that the horse’s mouth is empty before you start so she cannot spit the medication out in a big mouthful of roughage.
  4. Make sure that you have good control of the horse’s head, insert the syringe into the space between the horse’s front teeth and cheek teeth, and push down on the plunger once she starts making a chewing action.
  5. Remember to lift the horse’s head up until she has swallowed!

If your horse does not tolerate being syringed well, for example, when giving a wormer, it is worth taking time to retrain your horse to allow this to be done, as you never know when you might need to give a course of veterinary treatment in this way.

Other things to think about

Some medication is most effective when given on an empty stomach, for example oral gastric ulcer medications and oral sedatives. Always check with your vet to determine whether a medication needs to be given at any particular time such as with/before/after feed, and how far apart the doses need to be spaced.

You should always ensure that your horse or pony completes the full course of treatment which has been prescribed. Any open and unused (or out of date) medicine should be returned to your veterinary surgeon for safe disposal.