Evaluation of the effects of the opioid agonist morphine on gastrointestinal tract function in horses

  • Boscan P
  • Van Hoogmoed L
  • Farver T
 et al. 
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OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effects of morphine administration for 6 days on gastrointestinal tract function in healthy adult horses.

ANIMALS: 5 horses.

PROCEDURES: Horses were randomly allocated into 2 groups in a crossover study. Horses in the treatment group received morphine sulfate at a dosage of 0.5 mg/kg, IV, every 12 hours for 6 days. Horses in the control group received saline (0.9% NaCl) solution at a dosage of 10 mL, IV, every 12 hours for 6 days. Variables assessed included defecation frequency, weight of feces produced, intestinal transit time (evaluated by use of barium-filled spheres and radiographic detection in feces), fecal moisture content, borborygmus score, and signs of CNS excitement and colic.

RESULTS: Administration of morphine resulted in gastrointestinal tract dysfunction for 6 hours after each injection. During those 6 hours, mean +/- SD defecation frequency decreased from 3.1 +/- 1 bowel movements in control horses to 0.9 +/- 0.5 bowel movements in treated horses, weight of feces decreased from 4.1 +/- 0.7 kg to 1.1 +/- 0.7 kg, fecal moisture content decreased from 76 +/- 2.7% to 73.5 +/- 2.9%, and borborygmus score decreased from 13.2 +/- 2.9 to 6.3 +/- 3.9. Mean gastrointestinal transit time was also increased, compared with transit times in control horses.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Morphine administered at 0.5 mg/kg twice daily decreased propulsive motility and moisture content in the gastrointestinal tract lumen. These effects may predispose treated horses to development of ileus and constipation.

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  • Pedro Boscan

  • Linda M. Van Hoogmoed

  • Thomas B. Farver

  • Jack R. Snyder

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