Horse vets urge rethink on flunixin suspension

Flunixin is commonly used in horses undergoing both elective and emergency surgery. © Redwings Horse Sanctuary

Injectable formulations of the veterinary painkilling drug flunixin have been suspended from sale in Britain along with several other medicines used in horses, but the country’s lead equine veterinary body is calling for a reversal of the ruling.

On Thursday the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) suspended products that contain the exicipient [inactive substance] diethanolamine (DEA) for food-producing animals. The chemical has recently been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

This led to the suspension of flunixin, as well as other injectable products including allevinix, dugnixon and pyroflam.

Flunixin is the most commonly used analgesic in horses with colic, undergoing surgery and for other conditions. It is used throughout the equine veterinary profession because of its highly potent analgesic effects. It is the only medicine licensed for the treatment of sepsis (endotoxaemia).

BEVA president Jonathan Pycock
BEVA president Jonathan Pycock

The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has called for the suspension to be overturned in horses not destined for the human food chain, to reduce the potential impact on equine welfare.

BEVA said there was no warning or consultation with the veterinary profession over the suspension.

BEVA president Jonathan Pycock said the association was fully supportive of all attempts to promote food safety. “However flunixin is widely viewed as the gold-standard pain-killer in horses and is commonly used in horses undergoing both elective and emergency surgery, for the crippling pain associated with laminitis and for severe forms of colic.”

The VMD’s decision reflects European Medicines Agency guidance relating to the human safety of the solvent used in the injectable formulation, not the active ingredient. To date, no recall notices have been issued and therefore veterinary surgeons may continue to prescribe medicines held in stock, although disruption to the supply chain will result in shortages of this medicine in clinical practice.

“BEVA is calling on the VMD to immediately enable limited batch release of flunixin for use in horses not destined for the human food chain in the interests of animal welfare,” Pycock said.

“The equine veterinary profession has always been open to consultation with the VMD on a range of important matters relating to responsible medicine use, antibiotic resistance, horse identification, passports and the horse meat issue. BEVA is perplexed as to why the VMD failed to consult with the equine veterinary industry on the animal welfare impact of withdrawing such an important drug.”

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