Nobody should be surprised that cows and calves feel pain. As animal caretakers, it behooves us to try to reduce and control their pain when methods are reasonable. Also, pain control is now required by the NMPF’s FARM program. There are a number of common conditions that can result in significant pain where we may be able to help. Dr. Sarah Wagner, of North Dakota State University, gave a presentation about pain in cattle at the recent Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association Annual Meeting. Much of what follows is adapted from her presentation.
    Dehorning is perhaps the first thing many of us think of regarding pain in cattle. Dehorning clearly hurts. Dehorning should always be done when calves are as young as possible. In dairy calves, it should be possible to make sure dehorning is always done in the first two weeks of life. Removing small buds is preferable to removing horns that are fully attached to the skull. A local anesthetic should always be used in a local block, except when dehorning paste is used. The procedure is simple, easy to do and effective. In the last few years, meloxicam, a human anti-inflammatory drug, has successfully been used to help control pain of dehorning, especially once the local block wears off. Meloxicam can only be used in extra label fashion upon the order of a veterinarian. Recently, a new, pour on version of Banamine was approved by the FDA for relief of pain caused by foot rot in cattle. It is not approved for suckling calves, but likely could be used in an extra label as well for controlling dehorning pain.
    Castration is certainly a painful procedure, too. Pain can be reduced by an injection of lidocaine in the cord above the testicle. The problem is that it takes a few minutes for the block to work, and waiting sometimes can slow down the procedure, particularly if calves are being run through a chute. For small calves that can be done without chute restraint, it should be possible to block several calves and then come back and castrate once the block is in effect. Meloxicam or Banamine can be given to help control pain after surgery.
    Lame cows certainly feel pain. Sometimes it is almost painful to watch them walk. Unfortunately, lameness pain is more often chronic than acute, and we do not have practical methods to control chronic pain in cows. Twice daily IV injections of flunixin would be helpful, but this is seldom practical. Meloxicam could be used orally every day or every other day (extra label), but milk has to be discarded, making chronic use unlikely in most cases. What about aspirin? Aspirin is not effective for pain control in cows due to very poor (20 percent) absorption from the rumen. Perhaps the best way to try to help control pain in lame cows, other than corrective trimming, is to move them to a bedded pack or similar soft surface if possible.
    Dystocia is likely often a painful procedure for the cow. This seems pretty obvious. What is less obvious is the pain that the calf experiences during and after an assisted birth. Ribs can even be broken during an extraction. Meloxicam can be given orally right after birth to control pain. Meloxicam can last up to 48 hours in calves, and withholding for slaughter until the drug clears is not usually a problem, so this drug could be a practical and useful treatment for pain in these cases.
    Speaking of calves, enteritis can often be quite painful. Meloxicam has been used as an early treatment for pain in scouring calves and may help keep calves eating and perhaps shorten the duration of symptoms.
    Metritis may be a painful condition. Controlling pain may help cows by maintaining dry matter intake. Cows treated with an antibiotic requiring milk discard could be treated with meloxicam without discarding additional milk.
    Mastitis certainly can be painful, as anyone who has been kicked after touching a sore udder knows. Mastitis cows are often reluctant to lie down because of udder pain. Flunixin is often used to treat the inflammation associated with toxic mastitis, but pain control is seldom practiced for grade one or grade two cases. Certainly for grade two mastitis, which is when the milk looks bad and the udder is inflamed, flunixin or meloxicam may be appropriate treatments.
    Major surgery like a laparotomy for correction of LDA, or Caesarian section, is most certainly painful for some time after surgery. Cows given meloxicam prior to surgery have been shown to lie down more following the procedure, so this drug may be useful in such cases, too.
    We will not likely eliminate pain from the life of all cattle anytime soon. We only have a couple of practical choices of drugs to help reduce pain. We are also somewhat limited by milk and slaughter withholds when using these drugs. Nevertheless, there are times where drugs can be used effectively and practically to reduce pain and suffering, and we should not hesitate to use them.
    Jim Bennett is a dairy veterinarian at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minn. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at with comments or questions.