Common equine sedative proves helpful in calming fireworks fear

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Sixteen horses who had experienced acute anxiety and fear associated with fireworks noise in the past took part in the study, which was carried out on New Year’s Eve.
Sixteen horses who had experienced acute anxiety and fear associated with fireworks noise in the past took part in the study, which was carried out on New Year’s Eve. © Igor Akimov

A recent study in Europe points has found detomidine gel could be a useful tool to alleviate horse’s anxiety during fireworks.

Fireworks seem to be an increasing problem for horse owners to deal with, no longer limited to just one or two nights a year but becoming a more regular nuisance.

Detomidine, an alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonist drug, has proved a useful sedative for allowing minor surgical procedures to be carried out in the standing horse and is widely used for enabling management tasks such as clipping, farriery, dentistry and wound dressing. A recent study by Francesca Dai and colleagues looked at whether it would help reduce anxiety and fear in horses exposed to fireworks.

Sixteen horses who had experienced acute anxiety and fear associated with fireworks noise in the past took part in the study, which was carried out on New Year’s Eve.

Eight horses were treated with 30 μg/kg detomidine gel (a little less than the licensed dose for sedation – 40 μg/kg) and eight with a placebo. Treatment was repeated, if necessary, after a minimum of two hours.

Response to treatment was assessed by the owners. The horses’ behaviour was also recorded on video and assessed by an expert who was unaware of which treatment each horse had received.

In Frontiers of Veterinary Science, the authors report that, when fireworks were present, 75% of the horses given detomidine were scored by their owners as having a good or excellent treatment effect on anxiety and fear. Interestingly, 50% of horses given the placebo were scored as having a good response.

Overall, horses of the placebo group showed more restlessness, vocalization, and signs of colic. Horses given detomidine showed a significant decrease in walking behaviour.

Researchers suggest that the effect was not simply due to sedation – as (for at least some of the time) horses were eating.

The only adverse effect reported was sweating in one horse after the first dose of detomidine.

The authors conclude that detomidine can be used for alleviating horses’ fear during fireworks. They suggest that further research with larger treatment groups is needed to confirm the results.

The research team comprised Francesca Dai, Simona Cannas and Michela Minero from the University of Milan; Julia Rausk from the Estonian University of Life Sciences; and John Aspegren and Mirja Huhtinen from Orion Pharma Research and Development in Finland, which sponsored the study.

Use of Detomidine Oromucosal Gel for Alleviation of Acute Anxiety and Fear in Horses: A Pilot Study.
Francesca Dai, Julia Rausk, John Aspegren, Mirja Huhtinen, Simona Cannas and Michela Minero. Front. Vet. Sci., (2020) 7:573309. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.573309

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One thought on “Common equine sedative proves helpful in calming fireworks fear

  • August 17, 2021 at 9:39 am
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    All the same people should know that: Fireworks produce a sound output that is in the 150 to 175 decibel range. Each year, many people experience some damage to their hearing as a result of fireworks.
    Flash bombs produce light of 7 megacandela (Mcd) and an intensely loud “bang” of greater than 170 decibels (dB). The M84 is the currently-issued stun grenade (“flashbang”) of the United States Armed Forces and SWAT teams throughout the United States. Upon detonation, it emits an intensely loud “bang” of 170–180 decibels and a blinding flash of more than one million candela within five feet of initiation, sufficient to cause immediate flash blindness, deafness, tinnitus, and inner ear disturbance
    Exposed personnel experience disorientation, confusion and loss of coordination and balance. While these effects are all intended to be temporary, there is risk of permanent injury.

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