Vet's Opinion

Pain Management Is An Issue Industry Must Continue To Address


Pain management is an issue we must continue to address, before it is addressed for us.

What products do we have that are labeled for analgesia (pain control) in food animals? The answer is none.

It isn’t that scientists aren’t working on this issue, however. One of the primary reasons we have no drugs labeled for analgesia in food animals is because we’ve struggled to identify a method to measure pain levels consistently and adequately; without that, you can’t measure a reduction in pain.

Pain management is an issue we must continue to address, before it is addressed for us. There’s no doubt that castration and dehorning are painful procedures. There’s also no doubt these procedures, which one activist group refers to as “painful mutilations,” will garner the most concern from consumers who have become more inquisitive about how their food is produced.

Research at Kansas State University (KSU) by DVM Dan Thomson, however, indicates that local anesthesia provides little true benefit for pain management in surgically castrated calves. This work also showed that surgically castrated calves had lower feed intake than banded calves, but only for the first 14 days of the study. After this, the surgically castrated calves had higher feed intakes than the banded calves, indicating that discomfort from the banding procedure occurred late in the process.

Considerable research has also been performed by KSU’s Johann Coetzee regarding cattle pain management using an experimental drug. This drug appeared to offer promise in providing long-lasting analgesia for such procedures as castration and dehorning.

Coetzee found this drug, when administered prior to dehorning, increased weight gain in calves after dehorning. Another study showed calves receiving the experimental drug 24 hours prior to surgical castration tended to have a lower incidence of respiratory disease.

While positive weight gain and increased disease resistance aren’t direct measurements of pain, they’re certainly indicative of stress, which increases when an animal is in pain. The use of this experimental drug in calves would be an extra-label drug use (ELDU). It would have to be administered individually to each animal, and is not water soluble.

The topic of ELDU has received considerable attention recently. In a nutshell, ELDU is the use of a drug in any way that isn’t consistent with how it’s labeled to be used. An example would be if a drug was labeled for use as a fever reducer, but was administered to an animal for the purpose of pain control.

Most of the recent attention to ELDU has been aimed at restricting veterinarians’ opportunities to exercise this privilege (see “Cephalosporins Aren’t Withdrawn From The Market” in February 2012 BEEF). Some anti-animal agriculture groups have strongly supported restricting this privilege.

Specific conditions must be met for ELDU. They include:

  • ELDU is permitted only by or under the supervision of a veterinarian.
  • It’s allowed only for FDA-approved animal and human drugs.
  • It’s permitted only when the health of the animal is threatened and not for production purposes.
  • It’s prohibited in feed.
  • ELDU is not permitted if it results in a violative food residue.

These conditions are designed to keep our food safe. While the drug described above meets these conditions, shouldn’t we be able to manage pain in food animals without going extra-label?

Our industry must continue to address this issue. We need to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop cost-effective pain management options. We need to let our elected officials know that pain management is an issue we would like to address, so they can encourage the Food and Drug Administration to make it a priority.

The world is run by those who show up. If we don’t show up on issues such as pain management, I’m certain there are some groups who would be very happy to stand in for us.

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire, LLC, of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at

Discuss this Blog Entry 7

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

Yes, the pain issue needs addressed. I think it is accurate to say HSUS will probably address it if we don't. It is the right thing to do, as well as animals gaining better if in less pain.

Castrated lambs are more likely to become lost and seperated from their mother than ewe lambs who only have tails docked which seems due to being more distracted by pain.

Allan (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2012

Humm, lets see a vet is advocating that the beef industry should add a additional burden of administrating pain medicine, only through a vet though. Why don't you just say we vets want more money from farmers. (Even though we have failed to provide enough vets to meet the current demand for large animal vets.) I cannot believe this would even be considered. This process only adds to the bottom line of pharmaceutical companies. If the cost of the additional weight gain is doesn't pay for the cost of administration then it isn't cost effective. HSUS doesn't care about the pain animals go through on the farm they are only there to make money for themselves.

on Mar 31, 2012

Why castrate at all? No need for pain management. We proved to the industry 50 years ago that bulls gain better in the feedlot than any other cattle. The beef fits the modern package of "leaner, younger finishing, no hormones added" product for the consumer. Right up the greenies ally. Why can't this industry figure it out for once and get headed in the right direction.

Besides that, ground bull in the mix makes the best flavor hamburger there is. Ground beef is the most popular beef with the consumer. Can't we add 2+2?

Allan (not verified)
on Apr 1, 2012

Why wasn't my comment posted? Did I hit the nail on the head?

on Apr 1, 2012

Allan -- We publish all appropriate comments and it is now published. If you become a verified user (by confirming in the follow up email we send) your comments will automatically go online. As you have it set up now, we need to approve the comment which takes time. Sorry for the delay. -Jamie Purfeerst, Sr Associate Editor

Cindhy20 (not verified)
on May 8, 2012

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Irene Graves (not verified)
on Jun 4, 2012

No point to raise in against of what you have said.This post is such a useful and it works according to the needs.


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What's Vet's Opinion?

Three top U.S. veterinarians provide tightly focused discussion of specific beef cattle disease and welfare topics.


Dave Sjeklocha

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS.

Mike Apley

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

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