From the March-April Bovine Veterinarian: We’ve seen it in old Western movies and read historical accounts. The wounded cowboy takes a big swig of sour mash, then bites down on a bullet while the local bartender/surgeon, equipped with a pocket knife and pliers, extracts a different lead slug from the unfortunate cowboy’s gluteus maximus. Other than the whiskey, there is no local or general anesthesia or analgesia, not so much as an aspirin. “That’s gotta hurt,” the viewer thinks.

Development of a wide range of drugs for managing pain, from mild to severe, has benefitted human and veterinary medicine immeasurably, but in animal agriculture, opportunities remain for adoption and use of pain-management technologies.

Part of the challenge in veterinary pain management has been a lack of products specifically approved by the FDA for pain relief in cattle, leaving veterinarians and their clients with limited options. Veterinarians can, however, use pain medications in extra-label applications, where appropriate, under provisions of the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA).

Recognizing that stressors, including pain, negatively impact cattle health and performance, it makes sense to take steps to manage pain during and after procedures such as dehorning or castration, in addition to pain resulting from injuries or other surgical procedures. And of course, taking reasonable measures to mitigate pain is simply the right thing to do from an animal-welfare standpoint.

Clearly, the public at large has become more aware, interested and concerned about welfare issues in animal agriculture. “Humanely raised” claims have become a major trend in food labeling, and the media pursues stories of animal mistreatment with great vigor, and often with little regard to the facts.

In January, for example, the New York Times ran an overblown article purportedly exposing widespread abuse of animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research center (USMARC) at Clay Center, Nebraska. While some of the claims could be legitimate, many were inaccurate or exaggerated. Nevertheless, activist groups circulated petitions calling for closure of USMARC, and politicians introduced bills in both houses of Congress aiming to extend the federal Animal Welfare Act to regulate treatment of animals at federal research facilities.

Veterinarians are on the front lines in assuring the welfare of animals on their clients’ farms and ranches, and in preventing negative publicity that harms animal agriculture. More use of pain-management medication can be a way to help those clients protect their image and improve their overall herd management and animal stewardship.

The lead article in the March-April issue of Bovine Veterinarian explores some options for pain management, including the use of meloxicam, a long-acting non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) during dehorning and castration. The medication is inexpensive and appears to significantly benefit animal well-being. The drug is not, however, labeled for pain relief in cattle in the United States, and extra-label use must conform to AMDUCA guidelines and take place within a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). That, potentially, creates an opportunity for veterinarians to become more involved in welfare issues and overall management within their clients’ operations.

For more on pain management along with articles on metabolizable protein in dairy rations, diagnostics services, marketing veterinary services and antibiotic resistance, see the digital edition of the March-April Bovine Veterinarian