The effect of different combinations of local anaesthesia, sedative and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on daily growth rates of dairy calves after disbudding

N Z Vet J. 2016 Sep;64(5):282-7. doi: 10.1080/00480169.2016.1196626. Epub 2016 Jul 3.


Aim: To assess the effect of sedation and local anaesthesia (LA) at disbudding, and the addition of meloxicam or ketoprofen treatment, on weight gain in dairy calves following disbudding.

Methods: Friesian-Jersey cross calves, from four dairy farms, were enrolled when 3-6 weeks old. All calves (n=271) were disbudded by veterinary personnel and randomly assigned to six groups: 136 were disbudded without sedation or LA, of which 31 received 20 mg meloxicam S/C and 75 received 150 mg ketoprofen I/M. A further 135 were disbudded with sedation (0.25 mg/kg xylazine I/M) and LA, of which 30 also received meloxicam and 75 received ketoprofen. Calves were weighed 3 days before, and 15 and 30 days after, disbudding (Day 0). Daily weight gain was analysed using mixed models and ANOVA.

Results: Complete results were obtained from 263 calves. From Day -3 to Day 15, the growth rate of calves disbudded without pain relief (0.53 (95% CI=0.47-0.60) kg/day) was less that of calves disbudded with some form of pain relief (0.65 (95% CI=0.62-0.68) kg/d; p=0.004). There was no difference between the effect of meloxicam or ketoprofen (p=1.00). An interaction between use of sedation and LA and additional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) meant that NSAID treatment did not increase growth rates in calves disbudded with sedation and LA but did increase growth rates for calves disbudded without pain relief (p<0.05). From Day 16 to Day 30 there was no effect of NSAID treatment on growth rate, but calves receiving LA and sedation grew faster (0.74 (95% CI=0.69-0.80) kg/day) than calves disbudded without LA and sedation (0.66 (95% CI=0.61-0.71) kg/day; p=0.018). From Day -3 to Day 30, calves disbudded with sedation and LA grew faster (0.71 (95%CI=0.64-0.77) kg/day) than calves disbudded without sedation and LA (0.60 (95% CI=0.55-0.65) kg/day; p=0.011). However, addition of NSAID to sedation and LA made no further difference to growth rates (p=0.69).

Conclusions: Dairy calves disbudded with no pain relief had slower growth rates than calves receiving pain relief. From Day 15 to 30 calves given no pain relief, or NSAID alone, grew more slowly than those receiving sedation and LA at disbudding. The addition of NSAID treatment to sedation and LA did not further increase growth rates.

Clinical relevance: This study adds to the evidence that pain management when disbudding is beneficial for calf productivity as well as calf welfare.

Keywords: Disbudding; analgesia; daily weight gain; dairy calves; ketoprofen; meloxicam.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Local / methods
  • Anesthesia, Local / veterinary*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Cattle / growth & development*
  • Cattle / surgery
  • Conscious Sedation / methods
  • Conscious Sedation / veterinary
  • Dairying / methods
  • Female
  • Horns / surgery*
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Ketoprofen / therapeutic use
  • Meloxicam
  • Thiazines / therapeutic use
  • Thiazoles / therapeutic use
  • Weight Gain
  • Xylazine / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Thiazines
  • Thiazoles
  • Xylazine
  • Ketoprofen
  • Meloxicam