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How to get a horse or pony to eat their Pergolide tablet for Cushing’s disease

Kieran O'Brien MRCVS

Pergolide, a drug that is used to treat Cushing’s disease, is notoriously unpalatable for horses, which can make it tricky to feed to your horse, especially when they need to take it every day. Of all the drugs I prescribe for my patients, the least palatable is pergolide, which is used to treat Cushing’s disease, a common horse health problem. Although some horses will accept the tablets just dropped into a feed, after a while quite a lot will refuse them completely or eject them from their mouths.

These pink tablets are quite small, and it can be hard to ascertain when put in a feed whether they have been eaten or simply dropped invisibly into the bedding. It is important that the horse does not miss a single day’s treatment, whether it’s a pergolide tablet or some other medicine being added to their hard feed, and so careful thought must be given to determining the best way to give these tablets.

How to hide a pergolide tablet

I surveyed a large number of horse owners to determine what clever ways they were using to get their animals to take these tablets, and I received detailed information on 24 different methods. The most popular was to hand feed them with the tablets slotted neatly into the holes of two or three Polo mints per tablet. The horse is given a few Polos first, then the medicated’ Polos are offered. It is not necessary to use sugar-free Polos, as the amount of sugar in each is tiny.

I have summarised some of the other tried and tested techniques for administering pergolide:

  1. Conceal a tablet in a fig roll, a piece of apple of banana, a hollowed-out piece of carrot, or a ball of dampened bread.
  2. Dissolve the tablet in apple juice or water and add to a small amount of feed. Ensure the horse eats every last bit.
  3. Buy empty gelatine pill capsules (size one) online and place the tablet inside. Then just add them to a feed. Surprisingly, horses don’t seem to detect that a tablet is concealed inside.
  4. Offer the tablets in a handful of coarse mix, taken directly from the hand.
  5. Add them to a treacle or strawberry jam sandwich.
  6. Dissolve the tablets in water and give them to the horse as a paste using a syringe.

How to make a pergolide paste

Pergolide tablets are very water-soluble, so a simple technique in order to get your horse or pony to accept them is as follows:

  • Remove the plunger from a 5ml syringe
  • Drop the tablet(s) in
  • Replace the plunger and suck up a little water
  • Shake to dissolve the tablets
  • Squirt the solution directly into the horse’s mouth using the syringe
  • Alternatively, add the tablets to a portion of wet sugar beet or a ‘mash’ feed and allow them to dissolve.

Pergolide is now available as a paste on veterinary prescription, so this will probably replace many of these methods for paste-compliant horses and ponies. However, having to give the paste every day for perhaps years will become a chore, so using one of the concealment methods above might be best for long-term treatment, even if used only intermittently.


Profile image of Kieran O'Brien MRCVS Kieran O'Brien MRCVS

About

After a long stint as a lecturer at Bristol Veterinary School, Dr Kieran O’Brien MA MVB PhD MRCVS has been a senior clinician in an equine practice in Devon for the last 25 years. He is an FEI Official Veterinarian and has been a team vet for British and Irish teams. He is a regular contributor to horse magazines and published the book Essential Horse Health. He breeds and imports Connemara ponies.

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