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There is gain by reducing pain

Use of anti-inflammatory drugs is instrumental for the betterment of animal welfare

There is gain by reducing pain

With the advent of the increasing consciousness in animal welfare, any products which can relieve pain, decrease inflammation and reduce fever are a welcome addition to the repertoire we as veterinarians have to treat clinical disease.

They also may have a place in controlling post surgical pain or inflammation such as might occur with castration or dehorning of cattle. With pain/inflammation/fever more controlled there is less stress, animal appetite is maintained in many cases, and calves recover more quickly and are less likely to contract conditions such as respiratory disease.

All the NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug’s) are prescription drugs so must be prescribed first by your veterinarian. They may be incorporated into protocols for the treatment of specific diseases on your farm.

There are three main groups of NSAIDs:

  • Flunixine: Banamine was the original and now there are many generic trade names for the same thing;
  • Ketoprofen, similar to human ibuprofen has the trade name Anafen;
  • Meloxicam trade name Metacam. This product has a huge market for treating small-animal arthritis primarily (now generic meloxicams are marketed in small animals) and is the most recent one to be approved in large animals.

Each of these products may be used for different reasons based on the veterinarian’s preference.


The company that makes Banamine (Merck Animal Health) has also combined it with the antibiotic floramphenical in the same product calling it Resflor. Their research found very good recoveries with less scarred lungs in pneumonia cases. This was a result of decreasing the inflammation in the lungs, recovery was quicker the antibiotic could work better so death loss and percentage of chronics was reduced. Banamine by itself is only approved for intravenous usage, but in the antibiotic combination called Resflor it can be given subcutaneously. It shows that the one good shot of an anti-inflammatory really helps economically. There often is not the need to repeat the treatment. Check with your veterinarian but the adding of NSAIDs to the mix when treating pneumonias will often help.


The company that makes Metacam (Boehringer Ingelheim) looked at using the product on clinically affected scouring calves along with the standard scour treatments such as electrolytes. They found that both the calves appetite was better, they recovered on average quicker and the calves were less active or more calm. The non-metacam treated calves because of probably uneasiness caused by gas pains or pain in general they weren’t nearly as content. Thus treated calves put more energy into getting better and recovered sooner. One must make sure the patients are properly hydrated and have good urine flow, as in under-hydrated calves kidneys may be harmed. That is generally true for all the NSAIDs.

Boehringer Ingelheim in another study looked at the pain response from hot-iron dehorning in young calves. While dehorning is becoming less necessary with using polled bulls in the beef breeds, dairy breeds are pretty much straight horned. A few polled dairy cattle are making inroads in Quebec. Dehorning is still routine in young dairy calves and some strains of beef breeds (full French Charolais and Fleckvieh/Simmental are two examples).

The beauty with modern technology is that readers can be used that record pressure to elicit a pain response. The pressure pushing down around the dehorning site was recorded and response was elicited with calves struggling or pulling back. Behaviour such as flicking of the ears, head shaking or head rubbing compared to the non-dehorned animals or dehorned animals without the Metacam was looked at. These calves were done at the normal six to 12 week age and a significant reduction in pain responses were noted.

Some were even given local anesthetic as well but that wears off after a few hours and the Metacam took over. The same principal really applies to the dehorning as the scouring calves, appetite will be maintained calves will be less stressed and recover quicker plus be less prone to get sick. This is a win-win situation and should return revenue to the producer especially in light of the fact that the amount of product is small in these young calves.

More research

Other animal welfare researchers are currently looking at using NSAIDs when doing other painful procedures such as castration or branding. Animal welfare is pretty much at the top of the list when it comes to the public’s vision of food production and food safety.

Our recent Beef Code of Practice makes the use of NSAIDs mandatory with castrating large calves starting in 2016. With castration the push is to do it at a younger age with a painkiller of some type and most veterinarians are now recommending this for both knife and banding castrations at older ages. Merck has a study indicating lameness is significantly reduced in the feedlot with Banamine proving its place as a painkiller with the increase in hairy heel warts (strawberry foot rot).

In order to be adopted for routine procedures, producers need products to be effective, economical, easy to administer, long lasting and have no longer a withdrawal than most antibiotics it may be given with. These products definitely will fit the bill. Although they do cost money when using them for routine procedures on young calves the dose is small. There may be a feed formulation but administration by needle is still pretty easy.

I find new veterinarians who have grown up in the animal welfare culture are more apt to use these products for many painful procedures. This is a good thing.

Procedures such as eye enucleations, caesarian sections, claw amputations or even prolapsed uteruses or other exploratory surgeries do much better with the addition of an NSAID. There is no doubt about their benefit.

With more approved products coming onto the market competition has pushed the price down so they are more affordable and can be used routinely in processing situations if your veterinarian prescribes them.

In the near future we will see more and more pain medication given to cattle. While it does appease the animal welfare concerns it also makes total economic sense. Reducing pain in livestock will return to the farmer both increased production, and hopefully reduce clinical disease. We as veterinarians just need to think about how it should fit into our treatment protocols and keep the animal welfare concerns in the back of our minds.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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