Pain in Cattle

Pain is unpleasant and debilitating. All animals experience it, and though it helps animals learn to avoid dangerous situations and protect damaged tissue, it also has negative effects. Animals in pain don’t eat as much as normal; they ruminate less and generally become inactive and less productive — with clear implications for your bottom line.

It is impossible to accurately assess the amount of pain experienced by cattle, but their behaviour during dehorning or the response of a cow with acute mastitis to having her udder palpated suggests that these are very painful experiences.

It is also important to remember that cattle are classed as “prey species” and instinctively hide pain. Vocalization or displaying obvious signs of pain in the wild would single them out for predator attack. Therefore, when they do behave in a manner suggesting pain — meaning they are unable to hide their pain — they are likely suffering from intense and severe pain.

Pain is a negative experience, and it should be minimized to ensure maximum productivity from affected cattle. Pain relief will get cows back eating and ruminating quicker, get them moving faster, and speed recovery.

In the past, it was difficult to treat pain in cattle effectively or economically. The development of local anesthetics was a major advance in eliminating acute pain during surgical procedures and for a limited period following the procedure. However, local anesthetics are of little use to treat longer-term pain, such as pain caused by dehorning or mastitis.

The development of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Metacam® has been a major breakthrough in pain relief for livestock. For the first time, veterinarians and farmers have the tools to relieve pain in cattle effectively, economically and for long periods of time.