As veterinarians use more and more NSAIDs to manage pain in livestock, one major area to focus on is the pain of the calf and the cow at calving.
Producers should develop a plan with their vets as to where and when to use these products when it comes to calving this spring.
NSAID, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are among the most common pain medications, available in injectable, oral and pour-on formulations.
A cow that has undergone a caesarian section will benefit immensely from NSAID treatments because she has had major abdominal surgery.
She will resume eating more quickly and as a result will probably milk better.
If traction was applied to the calf, then the calf is usually administered painkillers because of the leg swellings from chains biting in.
We as veterinarians try to be cognizant of how painful the birthing process can be. We double wrap the obstetrical chains and teach producers to do the same. This avoids broken legs by spreading out the force, but the legs are still sore and usually swelling is evident.
Prominent researchers at the University of Calgary’s veterinary school and manufacturers of painkillers are conducting studies to measure the benefits of giving painkillers around calving time.
There is no question in my mind that NSAIDs will help the cow recover quicker if major manipulation or torsion are needed at calving.
Also, whenever we need to use a calf puller, NSAIDs are good for both cow and calf. The cow will get eating quicker and the calf will likely suckle quicker and be more vigorous, although many producers who have assisted with a hard-pull birth, milk the cow to insure the calf gets colostrum quicker.
Researchers are seeing many promising results for cows and calves from these treatments. Some trials will even compare the different NSAIDs on the market. We know they all should work; the question is to what degree and for what type of pain.
For painful procedures such as the repair of broken legs, using NSAIDs is a no brainer.
With diarrheic calves, a study by one pharmacy company showed increased appetites and weight gains. The quicker and better calves recover from systemic disease, the better they do.
I have even used NSAIDs by themselves in calves limping or sore from being stepped on. The result was a quicker and less stressful recovery.
Most NSAIDs show results last for about two days, so often one treatment is all that is necessary.
Navel infections cause lots of pain and calves often walk hunch-backed, and when you grab them in the navel area they will grunt.
Grunting and grinding of teeth, also called bruxism, are two strong signs of severe pain that need to be addressed.
In calves with severe coccidiosis, straining continually and bruxism are common signs of pain.
Most calf diseases could benefit from concurrent use of NSAIDs but ask a veterinarian to help set up the protocols.
In young calves, the amount of drugs required and the cost are low while the treatments can often provide significant benefits.
Many other calving procedures can benefit from concurrent usage of NSAIDs but depending on severity, veterinarians may or may not prescribe them.
In cases of a prolapsed uterus, involving shock, blood loss and other complicating factors, NSAIDs may be wise.
Obturator paralysis cases (cow can’t get up from a hard calving) may benefit greatly from NSAIDs. Prolapsed vaginas, rectums or prolapses of perivaginal fat all have swelling and straining from the irritation and potential infection.
There are too many potential uses of NSAIDs to include them all on the labels, but we know many calving situations cause pain and inflammation. Tears and lacerations in the birth canal or vulval lips cause swelling or localized infections. The quicker we can help and alleviate complications the better the cows will milk and return to rebreeding shape.
The public identifies with a mother giving birth and even though some cows are suited for easy calving, complications can arise and newborns can get sick.
Cattle producers have great tools to take away the pain. I even had one producer ask at a recent meeting if painkillers should be given to all newborns when they are given their needles, receive ear tags, are potentially castrated with a band and, in some cases, receive implants.
Maybe researchers will study whether all these little pains add up to something more significant. Time will tell, but it is interesting that producers see the huge benefits NSAIDs can have.
Some may be more convenient or have shorter withdrawals that may be important in mature cattle.
The thing is they all work and which one to use in which situation is what you and your veterinarian need to determine this calving season. They are all prescriptions but have fewer side effects than the steroids of old.