Health & Management / Ruminants Pain Management / Techniques and protocols OVERVIEW:
< > Alleviation of Pain Associated with Painful Conditions in Ruminants:
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Introduction and General Information

Several common conditions in ruminants are painful including mastitis, foot and joint lesions leading to lameness, respiratory disease, inflammatory conditions of the urogenital tract (metritis, vaginitis), bloat, traumatic reticulitis and traumatic injuries.

Pain associated with illness and injury in ruminants may be prevented or alleviated by:

  • Management practices designed to minimise the incidence or risk of the disease or traumatic injury occurring;
  • Prompt recognition and treatment of the condition, such as antibiotics to treat a bacterial mastitis;
  • Specific physical or pharmacological measures to alleviate pain.

It is important to remember that pain, and suffering which may be caused by unrelieved pain, are associated with maladaptive physiological responses and behaviours: "there are no beneficial effects of unrelieved pain in animals under veterinary care." (J4.213.w2, W513.Jun04.w1)

With painful conditions such as lameness, pre-emptive analgesia cannot be used, since it is not known that the condition will occur and treatment occurs only when the condition has been observed. (P57.12.w1) This is also true of the other disease conditions mentioned above. 

Note: When it is known in advance that pain is likely to occur (e.g. when a surgical procedure is to be performed), then appropriate steps should be taken to prevent pain: see Prevention of Pain Associated with Painful Conditions in Ruminants.

Published Guidelines linked in Wildpro
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Prompt Diagnosis and Treatment of the Cause of Pain

Treatment of the lesion or condition causing the pain is important in the treatment of pain; symptomatic treatment of pain is supportive in the treatment of the disease or condition causing pain. (B207.2.w2)
  • Prompt diagnosis and effective treatment of the lesion causing pain is a major priority. (B207.2.w2)
    • It should be remembered that even when treated the lesion may remain painful for some (variable) time; relief of pain should be a major consideration in treatment of the animal. (B207.2.w2)
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Physical Relief and Supportive Therapy

In some circumstances physical methods of pain relief can be provided.
  • To relieve pain from a sore claw in cattle, a block can be placed on the other claw, taking pressure off the sore claw. (P61.62.w1)
  • Moist heat can be applied to a local painful lesion. (B207.2.w2)
    • The value of this therapy is affected by how long and frequently it can be applied. (B207.2.w2)

Supportive measures:

  • Provision of adequate clean bedding. This important for any individual which may be recumbent for long periods and also for individuals which may injure themselves rolling. (B207.2.w2)
    • A thick bed of well-packed straw is useful; it must be kept clean. (B207.2.w2)
    • Sawdust is practical but gets into wounds and bandages. (B207.2.w2)
    • Rubber floors, if available, are effective. (B207.2.w2)
  • Provision of adequate amounts of good quality food and clean water. (B207.2.w2)
    • This is essential in animals which are immobile or with restricted mobility. (B207.2.w2)
    • Appetite is often poor in individuals in pain, making provision of good food more important. (B207.2.w2)
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Use of Analgesics and Anti-inflammatory Agents

"In cattle systemic analgesia is indicated in the treatment of obviously painful disease (lameness), injury (for example after extensive foetotomy) and during and after surgery whether it is routine (dehorning), occasional (caesarian section, claw removal) or experimental. In dairy cows mastitis is almost certainly painful but the use of analgesics may be considered too expensive." (P61.62.w1)
  • Analgesic drugs which may be used in alleviation of pain include opiate analgesics (narcotic analgesics) and non-opiates, which are more useful when sedation is not required or is contraindicated. (B207.2.w2)
    • "Narcotics analgesics and anesthetics generally have limited use in large animals which are required to move around and eat and drink." (B207.2.w2)

The choice of analgesic drug should be based on the degree of pain present. Use of an agent of low potency in an animal which is in severe pain will not give sufficient pain relief. On the other hand, inappropriate use of a very potent analgesic may result in undesirable side effects which outweigh the benefits of the pain relief. (J290.21.w2)

  • Assessment of pain is therefore required for correct choice of analgesics. (J290.21.w2)

Providing analgesia to animals over a prolonged period is more difficult that proving analgesia for a relatively short period of time. (J83.28.w1)

  • Intrathecal or epidural administration of analgesics may be used to provide prolonged pain relief. (J83.28.w1)
  • Development of longer lasting analgesics may allow reduced dosing frequency and therefore reduced stress associated with administration of analgesics, particularly in wild individuals, and reduced logistical problems (P56.1.w25)

Note that treatment of pain may be required until a point after the medical resolution of the initial painful condition. (P20.1998.w2)

Further information is provided in: Groups of Analgesic Drugs

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When pain cannot be alleviated by other means then euthanasia, or slaughter on humane grounds, is required. (P54.2.w15, B344.66.w66)
  • Euthanasia is often a cheaper option than use of analgesic drugs. (P61.62.w1)
  • Euthanasia is the preferred option when the prognosis for the animal is poor. (P61.62.w1)
  • Euthanasia has the advantage in welfare terms of ensuring that the animal feels no further pain. (P61.62.w1)
  • While decisions may be made to keep an animals with chronic pain alive, as comfortable as possible, because of its breeding value or its genetic importance (e.g. in an endangered species breeding programme), euthanasia should be considered when the condition cannot be corrected and the decision to keep the animal alive is repeatedly being made for reasons which are not related to the welfare of that individual. (P20.1998.w2)
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Alleviation of Pain Associated with Individual Painful Procedures

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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee A.B.Forbes BVM&S.,CBiol.,MIBiol.,DipEVPC.,MRCVS (V.w66)

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