BACKGROUND: Epidural administration of morphine has been shown to be an effective analgesic strategy in horses; however, the possible occurrence of side effects limits its usage. In order to decrease their frequency, it is important to target the minimal effective plasma concentration and avoid overdosing. As to date species-specific pharmacokinetics data are not available for epidural morphine, the dosing regimen is usually established on the basis of clinical reports and personal experience. In certain physiological conditions, like gestation, the outcome of an empirical dosing scheme can be unpredictable. The aim of this case report is to describe the pharmacological profile of morphine and its metabolites after prolonged epidural administration in a pregnant mare and her foal.
CASE PRESENTATION: A 20 years old pregnant mare was presented to our hospital because of severe lameness, 2 months before delivery. Following an ineffective systemic pain treatment, an epidural catheter was inserted and morphine administered (initial dose 0.1 mg/kg every 8 h). Due to its efficacy in controlling pain, it was continued until end of gestation. Plasmatic concentration of morphine and its metabolites were assessed in the mare 6 weeks after starting the treatment, and in both the mare and foal during the first days after delivery. Plasmatic values similar to those previously reported in the literature following morphine short term administration through various routes and not accompanied by side effects were found in the mare, except during an excitatory period. Moreover, no evidence of dangerous drug accumulation or significant milk passage was noticed in the foal. Mild reduction of feces production with no signs of colic and two self-limiting episodes of excitement occurred during treatment in the mare. No side effects occurred during gestation and first phases of life in the foal.
CONCLUSION: Prolonged epidural administration of morphine in a pregnant mare allowed good pain control in absence of clinically relevant side effects, in both the mare and her foal. Sudden increase in morphine plasmatic concentration can occur and side effects appear; careful treatment to the lowest effective dose and continuous monitoring of the clinical condition of the treated horse should be performed.