Pain Relief in Newborn Calves

Date Published: 03/26/2020

Calves that experience stress and trauma due to a difficult birth usually get off to a slow start.  Depending on the severity of the calving trauma, calves can have trouble keeping warm, be low in oxygen, and may have rib or other fractures.  Both the calf and the cow may be in pain and are certainly fatigued in some cases, and these calves are at a greater risk of dying during the first 24 hours than calves born with no complications. 

Dr. Faith Cullens from the Michigan State Extension Service indicates at Bovine Vet Online that a study looked at giving the calves pain medication immediately following birth.  The study was conducted on two commercial dairy farms in Canada and almost 300 calves were assessed for vigor at birth.  Half of the calves were injected with an anti-inflammatory pain medication and the other half were not.  Vigor was assessed as visual appearance, initiating movement, general responsiveness, and oxygenation and respiratory rates.  Calves treated with the anti-inflammatories had increased vigor and an improved suckling reflex. Also, calves were followed until 8 weeks of age and it was noted that calves injected with the anti-inflammatory ingested a larger amount of milk, although overall health and average daily gain were not affected.  These results suggested that anti-inflammatory injections may be a good strategy to reduce pain and inflammation associated with birth.

The drug used in this study was meloxicam, which is inexpensive with a half-life of only 26 hours so it is unlikely to have a long-term affect in these calves.  Although meloxicam is not approved by the FDA in the U.S. in cattle, it can be used as extra label if your veterinarian feels it is indicated and prescribes the correct dose, route of administration, and withdrawal time.       

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