Study: Pain relief necessary for disbudding, dehorning dairy calves

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Study: Pain relief necessary for disbudding, dehorning dairy calves

Researchers find need for increased awareness of pain management protocols among veterinarians and producers.
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Mar 04, 2016
By dvm360.com staff

A recent study published in the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) scientific journal shows that 90 percent of respondents think veterinarians should provide pain relief for disbudding and dehorning dairy calves. 

Previous studies have shown that disbudding and dehorning—common management practices on dairy farms designed to reduce injuries to cattle and farm workers—are probably painful. Disbudding destroys the horn-producing cells and is usually done using a hot iron or caustic paste.  Dehorning entails the cutting away of the horn and is usually done surgically, using a mechanical gouger, wire or saw.    

The 18-month-long study sought input from non-industry stakeholders as well as veterinarians, dairy producers, students and animal advocates. Support for providing pain relief when disbudding and dehorning was consistent across all groups. The team at the University of British Columbia Animal Welfare Program, who carried out the study, hope that the results will promote awareness among veterinarians and producers of the relevant science, regulations and pain management protocols and also address misconceptions surrounding pain management.

Marina von Keyserlingk of the University of British Columbia id one of the study authors. “Despite evidence that these procedures are painful and the availability of effective means of pain relief, use of pain mitigation remains low in many parts of the world,” she says in a UFAW release. “Analyzing the views of stakeholders has aided in identifying barriers to adoption of pain mitigation and the need to address misconceptions surrounding the efficacy, availability, safety and costs associated with pain relief.  Although veterinarians are able to provide pain control under extralabel drug use, approval of additional analgesics for use in food animals is also needed.”

The administration of a local anesthetic in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs has been shown to provide effective pain control throughout the intra- and postoperative periods, the release states.