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, writes Dr Kieran O’Brien, a vet at Peabode Equine in Devon.

Of all the drugs I prescribe for my patients, the least palatable is pergolide, which is used to treat Cushing’s disease. 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, so careful thought must be given to determining the best way to give these tablets.

How to hide pergolide

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.

Meet the expert: Dr Kieran O’Brien MA MVB(Hons) PhD MRCVS worked as a clinician and lecturer at the University of Bristol before joining Penbode Equine Vets in Devon 20 years ago. His special interests are respiratory and skin disorders, and pre-purchase examinations. He has been team vet for British and Irish endurance teams and officiated at many international events.