Aspirin may ease calving stress in dairy cows

Decreasing inflammation and stress could be a strategy to prevent disease in early lactation, improve the welfare and performance of dairy cows and lower disease-related costs for producers.  | Getty Images

Cows can experience inflammation and stress during calving, which can increase the risk of diseases such as mastitis

Aspirin could become another inflammatory medication to provide pain relief for dairy cows.

A year-long American research study found cows that received a short course of acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin or ASA) after calving had lower metabolic stress and produced more milk than untreated cows.

“It’s sort of a cutting-edge strategy to decrease inflammation after calving,” said Dr. Adrian Barragan, clinical assistant professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Barragan said dairy cows can experience inflammation and stress during calving, which can increase the risk of diseases such as mastitis, an infection of the udder.

It can also lead to bacterial infection of the uterus known as metritis and can affect up to 40 percent of postpartum cows.

Research suggests each case of clinical metritis can cost U.S. producers about $359, with total costs to the dairy industry estimated at $650 million.

Barragan said decreasing inflammation and stress could be a strategy to prevent disease in early lactation, would improve the welfare and performance of dairy cows and lower disease-related costs for producers.

Numerous studies have been done with different non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) after calving on decreasing inflammation, which reported positive results in milk production.

However, caution should be exercised with postpartum cows because some physiological processes need a certain amount of inflammation to occur for placenta detachment.

In Canada, meloxicam is widely known and more commonly used, said Chris Luby, assistant professor in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Realistically, I think there’s a chance of it (Aspirin) catching on. It’s important from an animal welfare point of view that we do address pain postpartum after calving. I think from not just a productivity standpoint, but from a welfare standpoint, it’s something we should at least seriously consider,” he said.

“Good animal welfare and good productivity go hand-in-hand with dairy cattle. If animal welfare is good, they’ll give you more milk. It’s a very simple equation. So welfare and productivity, if you fix one, you’re going to fix the other.

“This is a good example. You deal with pain and inflammation postpartum, which improves our animal welfare and also improves the productivity of the cows.”

Barragan said a major goal of the project was to prove the effectiveness of a treatment that would be relatively easy and economical for producers to adopt.

Penn State research tested a regimen that would involve less labour and expense than methods used in previous studies where the drug was pumped into the rumen, injected or mixed in drinking water.

They tested 246 Holstein cows, from calving throughout lactation, at a family-owned dairy operation in Pennsylvania.

Two treatments of Aspirin boluses were administered to the treatment group, the first within 12 hours after calving and the second 24 hours later.

Compared to untreated cows, researchers learned treated cows had lower metabolic stress 14 days after calving and a lower rate of metritis.

As well, treated multiparous cows produced 3.6 more pounds of milk per day during the first 60 days in milk than the untreated animals.

“These results suggest that an easy-to-apply, economical and practical anti-inflammatory strategy after calving may improve the health of dairy cows, enhancing both animal welfare and farm profitability,” said Barragan.

An anti-inflammatory bolus can be administered at the same time as calcium boluses but they do pose a risk of throat trauma.

Meloxicam is normally given subcutaneously but is also labelled for intravenous therapy.

After treating with either Aspirin or meloxicam, milk must be withheld from the bulk tank for a time — 96 hours for meloxicam and 24 hours for Aspirin.

“The cows are more efficient metabolically with Aspirin. They do not spend waste energy on inflammatory response that they don’t need,” said Barragan.

Researchers are seeking easier methods to deliver Aspirin, perhaps as a feed additive.

Barragan said future efforts will focus on identifying why some cows have high inflammation at calving compared to others in the same herd.

“The cows that have a low inflammation will perform better.… They will have a high production and will get pregnant sooner,” he said.

“We need to target our efforts now on why those cows had that capability. What is allowing those cows to have a lower inflammation in that period and perform better? We need to target efforts into developing management skills that will allow cows to have that lower inflammation.

“Or maybe it’s genetics and we can start selecting for cows with a low inflammation at calving and therefore a better performance.”

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