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Eliminating the Risk of Ionophore Toxicity in Horses


Martin W. Adams, PhD, PAS – Equine Nutritionist for Southern States

Ionophores are a class of drugs that can be particularly toxic to horses. The potential toxicity varies depending upon which ionophore is considered. For instance, the ionophore monensin (Rumensin) is about ten times more toxic to a horse than lasalosid (Bovatec). At low levels, some ionophores have been experimentally fed to horses without adverse consequences. However, high levels of any ionophore must be considered a risk to horses and other equids (mules, donkeys, zebras, etc.). All needed steps must be taken to ensure that horse feeds remain free of ionophores, or any other drug. Some feed companies may miss the mark in attempting to assure horse safety by banning ionophores from their feed mills that manufacture horse feeds. The reality is that there are other non-ionophore drugs, for example lincomycin, that may be used in feed mills which are extremely toxic to horses and other equine species. These too must be addressed.

Stunt horse riding

Southern States has a quality control program designed to assure the correct use of all drugs, including ionophores. Some of these procedures include:

  • Training of employees in correct drug handling procedures.
  • Annual retraining to assure familiarity with correct procedures remains current.
  • Weighing of drugs to a hundredth of a pound for inclusion into feeds.
  • Daily inventory of all drugs to assure that the correct drugs have been used, at the correct level, and only in the right feeds.
  • Daily review and signoff by plant management of all production records involving drugs to ensure that there have been no errors in production efficacy in accordance with federal regulations.
  • Laboratory analysis of feeds containing drugs to validate that use was appropriate.
  • Drug residue carryover studies are conducted to assure that mill manufacturing systems remain capable of preventing unsafe drug residues.
  • Sequencing procedures to assure that horse feeds only follow medication-free feeds through the manufacturing system. Non-medicated batches of feed must be run after a medicated feed is manufactured or the computer will not allow a horse feed to be mixed and produced.

Additionally, Southern States has developed designated drug handling procedures, abbreviated as DDH. DDH specifically targets the need to keep the particularly dangerous drugs well away from horse feeds. Those drugs include all ionophores. DDH includes:

  • Feed components that include DDH drugs are put in distinctive bags used only for that purpose.
  • DDH drugs are stored in dedicated locations to ensure they cannot be accidentally added to horse feeds.
  • All manufacturing records are highlighted in red when DDH drugs are involved.
  • Extra separation is built into sequencing requirements between making feeds containing DDH drugs and feeds intended for horses.
  • Red seals are used to lock out containers containing products with DDH drugs to assure they cannot be commingled with horse feeds.

The preceding information specifies some, but not all, of the extraordinary precautions that Southern States has taken to assure that there is no risk to horses from ionophores and other highly toxic drugs. Any Southern States horse feed product can be fed with the confidence that comes from knowing that the training and manufacturing procedures are in place to ensure that drug residues will not be a problem.

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