At the 49th NMC Annual Meeting, Ken Leslie, DVM, MSc, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, discussed pain management and mastitis. Leslie looked at both veterinarian attitudes about pain associated with mastitis as well as studies evaluating the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for pain mitigation.

A 2006 survey in the United Kingdom asked veterinarians to rate severity of pain associated with mastitis on a scale of 1 to 10. Respondents rated severe mastitis at a pain level of 7, comparable to a fracture or foot abscess. Mild clinical mastitis was only rated a 3, which was similar to ratings given for hair loss on the hock. Women veterinarians in the survey did rate bovine mastitis as more painful than did men.

Researchers have looked for measurable changes in cattle behavior to indicate pain associated with mastitis including respiratory rate, rectal temperature, heart rate, stimulus pressure applied to rear legs and so forth.

A British study found that cows affected with mastitis exhibited greater sensitivity to pressure stimulus applied to the leg nearest the infection. Determining whether treatment with NSAIDS would offer benefit has been more difficult, especially in mild to moderate cases.

Several studies have investigated the affect of using NSAIDS in treatment of mastitis. While results remain unclear, several conclusions have emerged:

  • NSAID therapy has shown benefits in the treatment of endotoxin-induced mastitis including reduced rectal temperature and heart rate as well as decreased signs of inflammation.
  • In experimental-challenge mastitis studies, cows that received NSAID therapy returned to a normal physiological state more quickly, had faster reduction of inflammation and decreased rectal temperature. There was no change seen in milk production loss.
  • On-farm results have been difficult to obtain due to the lack of research into naturally occurring mastitis. However, similarities between experimental challenges and natural occurrences of mastitis do exist.

Since communication with cattle isn’t an option, researchers will continue to look for new and better ways to answer these questions. However, it’s clear that animal welfare concerns will only continue to grow, and as an industry, we must continue to strive to provide cows treatment for disease as well as the pain associated with it.

Source: NMC’s April 2010 The UdderQuarter