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Treating pain without inhibiting healing

By Amy Ettinger

new drug offers new hope for colic patients

As a loving horse owner, Maria Matlaga knows how traumatic a diagnosis of colic can be. Four years ago her gelding, Flash, spent three days in the intensive care unit fighting for his life.

“It’s horrible; it’s overwhelming,” says Matlaga. “You wonder, ‘What caused this? What did I do wrong?'"

Thankfully, Flash survived, and Matlaga now carefully monitors his diet, wets his hay and listens to his belly every time she feeds him. Despite advances in medical treatment, colic is still one of the leading causes of death in horses. Animals afflicted with severe colic experience abdominal pain and damage of the gastrointestinal tract, typically due to interruption of blood flow.

The commonly used pain management drug for colic, flunixin  meglumine, can cause problems in a horse’s gastrointestinal and renal systems that may even lead to further complications, says Dr. John Marshall, a former equine researcher at North Carolina State University who was the recipient of a Morris Animal Foundation fellowship training award. He is currently a faculty equine surgeon at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, where he continues to collaborate on research projects with North Carolina State University.

“In horses that suffer from colic, which can injure the intestine, drugs that are commonly used to treat pain inhibit the healing of the intestine,” says Dr. Marshall. With Foundation funding, Dr. Marshall and other researchers at North Carolina State University studied a new medicine, robenacoxib, that may provide pain relief for horses with colic, without the negative side effects associated with currently used pain relievers. Robenacoxib, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, is part of a new drug class, coxibs, that researchers are studying for their effects on pain relief and inflammation during recovery from colic. At labeled dosages, robenacoxib targets pain-causing enzymes while sparing the protective actions of other enzymes.

“The study showed that, in contrast to traditional pain relievers, robenacoxib did not prevent the recovery of the intestine following injury,” says Dr. Marshall. Currently, robenacoxib is only available in Europe, and it is only prescribed for cats and dogs. Dr. Marshall says he hopes that the study will lead to the introduction of the drug for horses worldwide.

Colleague and mentor Dr. Anthony Blikslager, professor of surgery and gastroenterology at the Equine Health Program at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says he is hopeful that coxibs will lead to better outcomes for horses with colic.

“Morris Animal Foundation has been able to provide funding that has proven that we really need to take a close look at this new drug class of coxibs,” says Dr. Blikslager.

The next step in the research is to determine the safest and most effective doses of coxib drugs for postsurgical treatment of horses with colic. Clinical trials are also being planned to see how well coxibs perform as pain relievers and to see if they increase survival of horses with severe colic.

Posted by on March 1, 2011.

Categories: Equine health, Horse health


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