Anti-inflammatories and analgesics for cattle (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2010

Drugs approved in the U.S. specifically for analgesia in cattle do not exist. There are guidance documents from the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine for companies that would like to have an NSAID approved for pain relief (, but none have yet been approved. We do however use several drugs in an extralabel manner as anesthetics and analgesics that prevent, reduce, or treat pain. Some antiinflammatories may be used to treat pain, or their anti-inflammatory action may decrease pain through the reduction in inflammation and production of pain-inducing cytokines and intermediaries.


The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage. Others have defined pain in animals as "an aversive sensory experience that elicits protective motor actions, results in learned avoidance and may modify species specific traits of behaviour, including social behaviour" (

Excellent resources exist for veterinarians and producers on how to recognize pain in cattle (e.g., Cattle are evolutionarily a prey species, so they have well-developed mechanisms for masking pain and disease. Some of the behavior that looks like pain may be related to sickness, i.e., to local or systemic inflammatory mediators, or they may be related just to the pain itself.

Bovine Veterinarians in the U.S. that were surveyed about pain and analgesic use believed that castration of calves <6 months old was the least painful and abdominal surgery in adult cows was the most painful of 17 conditions and procedures (others included dehorning, acute and chronic lameness, and mastitis, in beef and dairy cattle). Veterinarians recognize that pain occurs in cattle. They also treat certain instances of pain. In the same survey, respondents said they treated most animals undergoing abdominal surgeries (drug choices included local anesthetics, so pain relief may be secondary to surgical needs), and an average of 30% of respondents said they used at least one of the listed analgesics for castration of calves <6 months of age.