Pain relief mayhelp after calving

Cows and calves might benefit from pain relievers after calving, and consultation with a veterinarian can guide cow-calf producers to the best options for their cattle.

Though there are no drugs registered in Canada that are specifically labelled for pain related to calving, there are several generally labelled for pain relief, said Dr. Claire Windeyer, associate professor in beef cattle health at the University of Calgary.

Those NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) include ketaprofen, flunixin, aspirin and oral meloxicam. Injection formulations of meloxicam are another registered product for pain control and are listed in the link to licensed pain control products found at the end of this story.

“It’s important that producers discuss the products they’re using with their veterinarian, particularly for off-label use,” Windeyer said in an email.

“Withdrawal times can vary from the label when used in other animal types, by varying routes (subcutaneous versus intravenous), by varying dose or for various conditions.”

Windeyer said there is limited knowledge about pain mitigation in cattle, though research is ongoing.

“We’re still gaining an understanding of what conditions and diseases are actually painful and to what degree, in addition to how best to treat that pain.”

Dr. Jennifer Pearson, a PhD student at the U of C who is working with Windeyer, is now studying pain mitigation for beef calves that were assisted at calving. For that study, researchers used injectable Metacam as a precaution against interfering with colostrum absorption.

Pearson said via email that findings support the idea that calving is painful.

“According to our studies, we have shown that calves that experience a difficult birth have higher trauma biomarkers, and those with higher trauma biomarkers are less vigorous after birth. Less vigorous calves were also more likely to have failed transfer of passive immunity,” said Pearson.

There have been a few studies on using NSAIDS in dairy cows after calving but none in beef cows, she added.

Now Pearson and other researchers are investigating the use of meloxicam in beef calves that are assisted at birth to see the effect on pain and inflammation, passive immunity, health and growth outcomes.

A small intensive trial and a larger field trial involving more than 200 calves from 15 southern Alberta ranches have been conducted. Results are pending.

At the producer level, Windeyer said oral meloxicam is more affordable that the injectable type and may be a good option to treat pain in mature cattle. That depends on a producer’s ability to restrain the animal to administer the dose.

In a recent column in the Western Producer, Dr. Roy Lewis said he and other veterinarians are using more NSAIDS in their practices.

“There is no question in my mind when major manipulation with malpresentations and torsions that these NSAIDs will help the cow recover quicker. Also, whenever we need to use a calf puller, NSAIDs would be good for both the cow and the calf,” said Lewis.

“The cow will get eating quicker as the pains of the pull and the uterus contracting are diminished. The calf will likely suckle quicker and be more vigorous, although many producers with a hard pull milk the cow to insure the calf gets colostrum quicker.”

Lewis said most NSAIDs seem to be effective for about two days.

A list of pain control products licensed and available for use on beef cattle in Canada can be found at

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