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Drugs For Pain Management In Ruminants

19 January 2018

In this article the practical aspects of pain relief in cattle and sheep will be examined.

There are several different types of drugs which can be used to control pain in farm animals. Some are controlled drugs only to be used by a vet due to restrictions under the Veterinary surgeons act. Some methods of pain relief (eg epidural) may be technically difficult and should only to be administered directly by a vet or by a trained technician under direct supervision of  a vet. However, It is also recognised that in cases where otherwise an animal may not receive veterinary attention, there is a place for some type of pain relieving medication to be available on farm for the use of a trained stockperson where required.

Currently there are no licensed drugs available for use in sheep. Pain medication which is licensed in cattle or pigs can however be used in sheep at the discretion of the vet. In these cases standard withdrawal periods must be applied to prevent contamination of meat intended for human consumption.

Types of pain relieving drugs which can be used in cattle and sheep include:

NSAID’s (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) :

Examples commonly used in cattle and sheep include meloxicam, ketoprofen, carprofen and flunixin. The drugs can be used by a variety of routes including intravenous, intramuscular and  subcutaneous administration. There is also a ‘pour-on’ preparation of finadyne which may be appropriate in some circumstances.  Unlike in humans, oral preparations of NSAIDS are poorly absorbed in ruminants and there are currently no commercially available forms which can be given in feed.


Steroids such as dexamethasone are occasionally used for pain relief in ruminants as they have an anti-inflammatory action. These drugs should only be used under the guidance of a veterinary surgeon. Steroids are recognised to delay wound healing and should not be used in pregnant animals .

Local anaesthetics:

These drugs are used to provide pain relief  by local infiltration, by injection in to a vein (e.g for foot surgery), by direct desensitisation of a nerve (e.g conual nerve for disbudding) or for spinal anaesthesia (epidural).


Powerful pain relief such as morphine can only be used in specific circumstances. These drugs are not licensed in food producing animals  and can have serious side effects in farm animals. They should only be used directly by a veterinary surgeon.


It should be noted that sedatives used in farm animals can allow immobilisation of the animals  in order to make procedures easier but may provide little or  no pain relieving effect. Therefore, pain relief should be considered separately when using sedatives in farm animals.

There are a wide range of conditions and procedures in which pain relief is appropriate. Pain medications can have serious side effects when used incorrectly so it is important to have a good idea of the animals weight and know the correct route of administration and dosage for the drug which is being used.

Katy Hewitson, SAC Consulting Veterinary Services

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