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The Effect of Topical Anaesthesia on the Cortisol Responses of Calves Undergoing Dehorning

Sciprofile linkCrystal Espinoza, Sciprofile linkSabrina Lomax, Sciprofile linkPeter Windsor
Published: 17 February 2020
 by  MDPI
 in Animals
Animals , Volume 10; doi:10.3390/ani10020312

Abstract: Dehorning in cattle involves the manual removal of horns which causes acute pain. Although the long-term solution to removing horns is to breed polled cattle, limitations include the complex inheritance for polled Brahman cattle, and negative interactions with productivity in dairy cattle. Best practice pain relief in the form of a local nerve block, a sedative and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug prior to the procedure usually requires a veterinarian and may be impractical for some cattle production systems. Improved livestock welfare requires a practical and cost-effective pain relief strategy for dehorning that can be readily adopted commercially. We evaluated a modified topical local anaesthetic wound formulation that can be applied by farmers immediately following dehorning. While previous studies have demonstrated a reduction in wound sensitivity, there was no effect on cortisol concentrations. It is likely that the cortisol response reflects a combination of factors including the stress of handling, the initial pain of the dehorning procedure and haemorrhage. Dehorning causes pain and distress to cattle, and there is a need to provide effective and practical analgesia to improve animal welfare. We conducted an experiment to determine the effect of a modified post-operative topical wound management formulation containing two local anaesthetics (TA) on the plasma cortisol concentration (PCC) of scoop-dehorned calves. Two months old Holstein-Friesian heifer calves (n = 30) were randomly allocated to sham dehorning control (CON), scoop dehorning (D), or scoop dehorning with immediate post-operative application of the TA (DTA). Blood samples were obtained via jugular venepuncture prior to sham or actual dehorning, and 40 min, 1.5, 4 and 24 h later. PCC changed significantly over time (p < 0.01). There was a trend for lower PCC in DTA calves compared to D calves (p = 0.09), with the PCC area under the curve lowest in CON calves as compared to D and DTA calves (p = 0.02). Cortisol concentrations were similar between D and DTA at all time points. The TA did not reduce cortisol concentrations up to 24 h following treatment and the cortisol response likely reflects the pain induced by the procedure, the effect of handling and restraint, and haemorrhaging which limited adherence of the TA actives. A multimodal analgesic approach, as assessed through multiple pain indicators, should be the focus of future work.
Keywords: pain / welfare / Calves / Dehorning / Topical Anaesthesia

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