Effect of butorphanol on thermal nociceptive threshold in healthy pony foals


  • Dr. Elfenbein's present address is Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, College Station, Texas, USA. Dr. Robertson's present address is Animal Welfare Division, American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, Illinois, USA.

Correspondence email: sanchezl@ufl.edu;


Reasons for performing study

Pain management is an important component of foal nursing care, and no objective data currently exist regarding the analgesic efficacy of opioids in foals.


To evaluate the somatic antinociceptive effects of 2 commonly used doses of intravenous (i.v.) butorphanol in healthy foals. Our hypothesis was that thermal nociceptive threshold would increase following i.v. butorphanol in a dose-dependent manner in both neonatal and older pony foals.


Seven healthy neonatal pony foals (age 1–2 weeks), and 11 healthy older pony foals (age 4–8 weeks). Five foals were used during both age periods. Treatments, which included saline (0.5 ml), butorphanol (0.05 mg/kg bwt) and butorphanol (0.1 mg/kg bwt), were administered i.v. in a randomised crossover design with at least 2 days between treatments. Response variables included thermal nociceptive threshold, skin temperature and behaviour score. Data within each age period were analysed using a 2-way repeated measures ANOVA, followed by a Holm–Sidak multiple comparison procedure if warranted.


There was a significant (P<0.05) increase in thermal threshold, relative to Time 0, following butorphanol (0.1 mg/kg bwt) administration in both age groups. No significant time or treatment effects were apparent for skin temperature. Significant time, but not treatment, effects were evident for behaviour score in both age groups.


Butorphanol (0.1 mg/kg bwt, but not 0.05 mg/kg bwt) significantly increased thermal nociceptive threshold in neonatal and older foals without apparent adverse behavioural effects.

Potential relevance

Butorphanol shows analgesic potential in foals for management of somatic painful conditions.