Corticosteroids. STOP and THINK!

Corticosteroids, more specifically glucocorticoids, are a group of potent anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drugs that are frequently used in horses. Those most commonly used in the horse are prednisolone (which includes Preddy Granules), dexamethasone and triamcinolone.

Whenever any medication is used, the systemic effects the drug has on the horse should always be considered.

Adverse effects of glucocorticoids are well known, yet we don’t always stop to think what this can mean for the horse in front of us. The immunosuppressive effect of this class of drugs has been demonstrated to predispose horses to bacterial and/or fungal infections, decrease wound healing and increase the risk of insulin-resistant laminitis. Other less severe but important adverse effects include muscle wasting, hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose levels), polyuria (excessive urination), polydipsia (excessive thirst) and gastric ulcers.

Corticosteroids also effect the nutritional status of the horse, as they influence the synthesis, absorption and/or excretion of key nutrients including: zinc, magnesium, calcium, selenium, vitamin C and vitamin D.

Horses receiving glucocorticoids are known to have decreased immune response to infection and vaccines. Whilst some conditions may necessitate the use of these drugs, in the best interests of the horse’s health, performance (physical and/or reproductive) and wellbeing- addressing WHY the drugs are needed in the first place is paramount. Should the use of glucocorticoids be strongly indicated, then concurrently addressing specific nutrient requirements is paramount.