Topical anesthesia mitigates the pain of castration in beef calves

J Anim Sci. 2013 Oct;91(10):4945-52. doi: 10.2527/jas.2012-5984. Epub 2013 Aug 21.


Castration involves the removal of the testes and is performed to improve product quality and management of male calves. The procedure has been proven to cause significant pain and stress, and despite several attempts to reduce the impact of castration on animal welfare, there has yet to be a practical and affordable option made available for farmer application. To address this issue, we conducted 2 trials (n = 18 and 27) to examine the efficacy of topical anesthetic Tri-Solfen (TA) to alleviate the pain of surgical castration. Angus bull calves (135.8 ± 5.7 kg) aged 3 to 4 mo were randomly allocated to 3 treatment groups, including surgical castration, castration in combination with TA, and uncastrated controls. In Trial 1, pain-related behavior was assessed using a customized numerical rating scale (NRS) over 4 h. In Trial 2, pre- and postoperative skin sensitivity of the wound and periwound areas was assessed using an electronic von Frey anesthesiometer (IITC Life Sciences, Woodland Hills, CA) and von Frey monofilaments (300 g). Sampling was repeated at 1 min and 2, 4, 6, and 24 h after castration. Pain threshold was measured as maximum pressure (g) exerted by the electronic anesthesiometer to invoke animal reflex, and responses to the von Frey monofilaments were scored from 0 to 3 using a NRS on the basis of local and central motor reflexes. Calves treated with TA displayed significantly less pain-related behaviors up to 3.5 h after castration than untreated calves (P < 0.001) and did not differ from uncastrated controls. Topical anesthetic-treated calves also exhibited significantly greater pain threshold of the wound (559.2 ± 14.3 g) and surrounding skin (602.8 ± 16.5 g) than untreated calves (446.0 ± 18.9 and 515.3 ± 20.4 g, respectively; P < 0.001). Control and TA-treated calves had significantly lower mean response scores to von Frey stimulation than untreated calves (0.333, 0.978, and 4.289, respectively; P < 0.001). Results indicate that TA effects rapid and prolonged pain alleviation in calves up to 24 h after castration. Topical anesthesia may present a cost-effective, practical, on-farm approach to pain alleviation and is proposed as a potential tool for reducing the welfare impact on the beef animal in routine husbandry procedures.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Local / veterinary*
  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Bupivacaine / administration & dosage
  • Bupivacaine / pharmacology
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cetrimonium
  • Cetrimonium Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Cetrimonium Compounds / pharmacology
  • Drug Combinations
  • Epinephrine / administration & dosage
  • Epinephrine / pharmacology
  • Lidocaine / administration & dosage
  • Lidocaine / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Orchiectomy / adverse effects*
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Pain / veterinary*
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / pharmacology


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Cetrimonium Compounds
  • Drug Combinations
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • Lidocaine
  • Bupivacaine
  • Epinephrine
  • Cetrimonium