A method has been developed for the analysis and characterization in equine urine and plasma of iridoid glycosides: harpagide, harpagoside and 8-para-coumaroyl harpagide, which are the main active principles of Harpagophytum, a plant with antiinflammatory properties. The method involves liquid chromatography coupled with positive electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. The addition of sodium or lithium chloride instead of formic acid in the eluting solvent has been studied in order to enhance the signal and to modify the ion's internal energy. Fragmentation pathways and associated patterns are proposed for each analyte. A comparison of three types of mass spectrometer: a 3D ion trap, a triple quadrupole and a linear ion trap, has been conducted. The 3D ion trap was selected for drug screening analysis whereas the linear ion trap was retained for identification and quantitation analysis. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.