The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of AgWeb or Farm Journal. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.
Across livestock production, we’ve seen growing acceptance of the relationships between stress, disease and lost performance. We’re also operating in a time when consumer perceptions are evolving rapidly and playing a growing role in how we raise food animals.
Along with those trends, we’re seeing a growing interest in pain mitigation in cattle, particularly in procedures such as dehorning and castration, for improving animal welfare, health and overall performance. Veterinarians and producers have faced a challenge though, with a lack of medications labeled for pain relief in cattle in the United States.
Options are available though, and while pain management involves extra steps, extra labor and expense, potential benefits in performance, animal health, quality assurance and consumer good will could pay off for producers.
Engaging in pain management however, requires conversations between producers and their veterinarians.
For example, Merck Animal Health recently introduced Banamine Transdermal (flunixin transdermal solution) – the first and only FDA-approved product for pain control in a food producing animal. It is approved for the control of pain associated with foot rot and fever associated with bovine respiratory disease (BRD). This is a prescription medication, so producers and veterinarians need to work together to determine how it fits within a particular production system.
Researchers and veterinarians in the field also have seen good results from extra-label use of meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), to control lingering pain following procedures such as castration or dehorning. Veterinarians have had the option to prescribe local anesthetics such as lidocaine for those procedures, but effective and affordable options for longer-term analgesia have been limited.
Kansas State University veterinarian Hans Coetzee has conducted extensive research on pain management in cattle and has seen good results with meloxicam, which provides pain relief for up to five days. His trials have shown significantly improved weight gains following dehorning in dairy calves and lower incidence of BRD in beef calves following castration with meloxicam administered at the time of the procedure along with a local anesthetic.
Meloxicam is available through several commonly used distributors, and prices for a 1,000-count bottle of 15 mg tablets mean you can medicate calves at 0.45 mg/lb (1mg/kg) for less than a dime per hundredweight.
Remember though, that meloxicam, and some other drugs used for pain control, are not FDA approved for use in food animals. However, provisions of the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) allow veterinarians some flexibility in using pain medications, when research and practical experience demonstrate benefits in doing so. Veterinarians must follow AMDUCA guidelines, including having a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) and maintaining records on animals treated, treatment dates and dosage for extra-label use of meloxicam or other pain medications in cattle. So, producers and veterinarians need to work together in selecting pain-management strategies, but their efforts can pay off in better animal health and welfare, and better answers for consumers when they ask what we do to minimize pain in cattle.