Use of opioids for pain and anesthetic management in horses

Rachel C. Bennett, Eugene Steffey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Regional administration: There is limited, but convincing, evidence that epidural administration of morphine and some other μ-agonist opioids consistently relieves regional pain in horses. In addition, this effect is not accompanied by notable undesirable effects. On the other hand, a clinically important analgesic action has not been demonstrated for similarly administered κ-agonist opioids. There has been little objective data presented to support the analgesic effectiveness of intra-articularly administered opioids in horses. However, the evidence of local opioid receptors legitimately encourages work to substantiate the value of intra-articular opioid administration to relieve joint-associated pain in horses. Systemic administration: So far, study results do not provide convincing, objective evidence to support the opinion that systemically administered opioids consistently and effectively relieve pain in horses. Given this lack of evidence, and considering that opioids stimulate locomotor and other forms of unwanted excitant behavior, reduce propulsive gastrointestinal motility, decrease alveolar ventilation (especially in association with general anesthesia), and require regulatory and practical considerations for abuse potential in both humans and horses, we conclude that routine, indiscriminate administration of opioids for pain relief in horses is not justified. Identification and focused, objective study of selective beneficial opioid actions to provide guidance for appropriate clinical use is long overdue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-60
Number of pages14
JournalVeterinary Clinics of North America - Equine Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Equine


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