Background: The intramuscular injection of ketamine and azaperone was proposed as a suitable anaesthesia for male suckling piglets for surgical castration. However, this can be opposed by massive defensive movements, hypothermia and tachycardia during castration and a long recovery period. The aim of the present study was to test whether the use of S-ketamine and/or a change in the route of application from intramuscular to intranasal could reduce stress responses and the duration of recovery compared to the intramuscular route and the use of racemic ketamine. Seventy-eight healthy, five-day-old male piglets were randomized to six treatment groups in a blinded experimental study, matched by litter and weight. Experimental groups were A (15 mg kg-1 S-ketamine + 2 mg kg-1 azaperone, i.m., surgical castration), B (15 mg kg-1 R/S-ketamine racemate + 2 mg kg-1 azaperone, i.m., surgical castration), C (30 mg kg-1 S-ketamine + 2 mg kg-1 azaperone, i.n., surgical castration), D (15 mg kg-1 R/S-ketamine racemate + 2 mg kg-1 azaperone, i.m.; not castrated), E (positive control group; no anesthesia, surgical castration) and F (negative control group; no anesthesia, not castrated).
Results: S-ketamine reduced the defensive movement score during castration to a similar extent to racemic ketamine when administered intramuscularly but not via the intranasal route. However, the effects of S-ketamine (both routes) on the increase in cortisol levels and decrease in body temperature were similar to those induced by racemic ketamine. A reduction of the long recovery time known for ketamine-azaperone anaesthesia could not be achieved with S-ketamine in the given dosage, regardless of the route of application. The intranasal administration of ketamine was difficult with the available formulation as the necessary amount exceeded the capacity of the nose cavity.
Conclusions: Neither the use of S-ketamine nor intranasal administration can be suitable alternatives for the anaesthesia of male suckling piglets for castration.
Keywords: Ketamine; Piglet castration; Swine.