Pain relief medication for beef cattle

Anecdotal evidence indicates an increased adoption of best practice animal welfare management with the provision of pain relief medication to cattle during routine husbandry procedures. The benefits resulting from administration of analgesia for painful procedures such as castration, dehorning and disbudding are widely acknowledged and supported by field trials. Aside from the obvious welfare benefits, production is enhanced as animals suffer less pain, and as a result return to normal feeding and other activities in a much faster time than without any pain relief.

It is also important to note that Western Australia, along with all other jurisdictions uphold the endorsed Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle (Cattle Standards). The Cattle Standards provide for the administration of pain relief for certain painful procedures including castration and de-horning, and once implemented as Regulations under the Animal Welfare Act 2002, it will become an offence not to provide analgesia where mandated.

What are the options?

Navigating the differences between the products and selecting the best option available for your cattle can seem like a daunting task at first. The following is a brief comparison of the products available with some key points for consideration.

There are currently three pain relief products registered for use on cattle with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA): one local anaesthetic – Tri-Solfen®, and two Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) analgesics – Ilium Buccalgesic® OTM and Metacam® 20 or 40 (Registered for cattle only).

Anaesthetic vs. analgesic

Anaesthetics and analgesics target different areas of the pain pathway. Local anaesthetics provide short term pain relief by temporarily blocking sensory function (i.e. numbing the area). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a type of analgesic which do not block sensory function, but do block inflammatory pathways in the body and provide analgesia.

Single or multi-modal use?

Anaesthetics and analgesics can be used individually or together to manage pain. A local anaesthetic will reduce pain at the time of the procedure by causing the surgical site to become numb. As Tri-Solfen is a topical spray (as opposed to an injection you would receive at the dentist), it will only work when applied to exposed nerves, i.e. after the procedure. While it will not provide pain relief during the procedure, it will do so within one minute of being applied after the procedure. However, this will eventually wear off and there will be residual pain from the inflammation caused by the procedure.

An analgesic will not block pain at the time of the procedure, but will provide a longer lasting pain relief by targeting inflammation as the wound heals.

A common example of multi-modal pain relief is the use of a local anaesthetic and an analgesic (e.g. ibuprofen) for a trip to the dentist. The local anaesthic will numb the site of application to block pain during the procedure (e.g. drilling). However, as the local anaesthetic wears off, we often take an analgesic to provide relief from residual pain caused by the inflammation of the wound.

For cattle, this multi-modal approach might involve administering a cornual nerve block, and a dose of an NSAID prior to the procedure. The cornual nerve traverses the frontal crest and provides sensation to the skin of the horn/horn bud region. A cornual nerve block involves injecting local anaesthetic at the base of horn around the cornual nerve to block sensation prior to disbudding or dehorning. Where a cornual nerve block is not possible, application of a topical anaesthetic to the wounds post procedure is recommended.


The price will vary depending on the quantity of product purchased. The amount of Buccalgesic and Metacam administered is calculated by the weight of the animal only, whereas the amount of Tri-Solfen administered depends on both the weight and the number of application sites. (i.e. if you are both dehorning and castrating, or just performing one procedure).

Which option is right for me?

It is recommended that producers consult their veterinarian, for a comprehensive understanding of the function and application of their chosen product(s) and to ensure effective treatment, before investing in pain relief measures.

Some key considerations are:

  • What type and method of procedures are to be performed?
  • Who will be applying the pain relief? Do they have the skills required?
  • Price per unit applied
  • Number of livestock to be treated (Metacam needs to be discarded 28 days after opening)
  • Possible re-treatments (Buccalgesic cannot be administered again for 21 days).
Product nameTri-SolfenBuccalgesicMetacam
ManufacturerBayerTroy PharmaceuticalBoehringer Ingelheim
Product descriptionLocal anaesthetic which blocks sensory function. Also contains adrenaline to reduce blood supply and loss, and an antiseptic.

Composition: Lignocaine and Bupivicaine (Ananesthetics), Adrenaline (aids in control of bleeding) and Cetrimide (Antiseptic).
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which targets the inflammation that causes pain.

Composition: Meloxicam 10 mg/ml in a buccal (cheek) formulation. Designed for retention in the buccal cavity, and absorption across the mucous membrane
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which targets the inflammation that causes pain.

Composition: Meloxicam 20 mg/ml in an injectable solution.

Meloxicam 40 mg/ml registered for cattle only.
Purpose· Pain relief
· Reduces bleeding
· Reduces risk of bacterial infection
· Assist in healing by sealing and protecting the wound
· Pain relief
· Reduces inflammation
· Pain relief
· Reduces inflammation
APVMA registered useTopical anaesthetic and antiseptic solution for pain relief on calves after disbudding or dehorning.For alleviation of pain associated with the routine husbandry procedure of disbudding (or dehorning) of calves. Administered in conjunction with a cornual nerve block, where local anaesthetic is injected to desensitise the skin of the horn/horn bud region.

For the alleviation of pain associated with the routine husbandry procedure of castration, in conjunction with application of local anaesthetic at the surgical site to enhance pain relief and minimise tissue damage and distress.
For use to assist in the control of pain following the dehorning of cattle, particularly that following heat cautery dehorning of young cattle.

For the reduction of pain associated with surgery.
Calves 30-100 kg 6 mL
Calves over 100 kg 9 mL
8 mL (4 mL per horn)
0.5 mg/kg bodyweight (0.5 mL solution/10 kg) administered at least 15-30 minutes before the procedure.
Metacam 20 mg/ml SINGLE DOSE ONLY
Dehorning: 0.5 mg/kg bodyweight (2.5 ml/100 kg) subcutaneous or intravenous injection administered at least 10 minutes before dehorning, and be accompanied by a cornual nerve block using local anaesthesia.
Metacam 40 mg/ml SINGLE DOSE ONLY
0.5 mg/kg bodyweight (1.25 ml/100 kg bodyweight). It is recommended that the injection is administered at least 10 minutes before dehorning, and be accompanied by a cornual nerve block using local anaesthesia.

NB: If a cornual nerve block is not possible prior to dehorning; application of topical anaesthetic (e.g. Tri-Solfen) to the wounds is recommended.
ApplicationCastration: three applications – one in each incision, final to scrotal skin wound.

Dehorning: Immediately after.

*Must be applied to exposed nerves at the surgical site to work.
Administer the dose into the buccal cavity that lies `between the molar teeth, and inside of the cheek while holding the mouth closed. This product is not intended to be swallowed (although will not cause harm if this occurs) but to be absorbed through the mucosa of the inner cheek.Single dose only by subcutaneous or intravenous injection.

For the reduction of pain and inflammation associated with surgery administer subcutaneously 10 minutes before the procedure.

Best practice animal welfare and management of surgical pain in dehorning cattle or calves involves pre-emptive analgesia using a multimodal approach with Metacam®

40 mg/ml or 20 mg/mL, and appropriate local anaesthetic administered as a cornual nerve block.

If a cornual nerve block is not possible prior to the procedure; application of a topical anaesthetic (Tri-Solfen) to the wounds is recommended.
Time it takes to workImmediate (within 1 minute)10-15 minutes10-15 minutes
Manufacturer’s claimed period of reliefCastration:
Up to 24 hours

Up to 24 hours
For castration:
24-72 hours

NB: Dehorning/disbudding: Research suggests up to 44 hours
For castration:
24-72 hours

NB: Dehorning/disbudding: Research suggests up to 44 hours
Meat Withholding Period90 days14 days Meloxicam 20 mg/ml: 8 days

Meloxicam 40 mg/ml: 11 days
Export Slaughter Interval90 days 21 daysMeloxicam 20 mg/ml: No ESI as this concentration usually used for calves.

Meloxicam 40 mg/ml: 17 days
You should always check with the APVMA website or with your Veterinarian for the most up to date ESI
AvailabilitySchedule 5: Over the counter

Presentation: 1 L, 5 L, 20 L.
Schedule 4: Requires veterinary prescription.

Presentation: 200 ml
Schedule 4: Requires veterinary prescription.

Presentation: 20mg/ml Injection (vial) 50 ml, 100 ml, 250 ml. And 40 mg/ml (vial) 50 ml and 100 ml.

Pastoralists say…

The Brockhurst family purchased Larrawa Station in the East Kimberley in the late 1980s. What was once a bare block with a single fence, is now a developed property with a grey Brahman herd. In this article Stephen Brockhurst discusses his experience trialling pain relief products for cattle.

We used the Business Improvement Grant (BIG) to trial the pain relief product Buccalgesic. Our main reasoning behind trialling pain relief was the welfare of our weaners; some of our necessary husbandry procedures do cause pain, and if we can minimise that, we want to.

Our family is also aware that animal welfare, is becoming an increasing focus in this Industry and we wanted to take that into account.

We wanted to see what impact pain relief would have on our weaners during branding, particularly if there could be further benefits such as a decrease in time off feed.

When processing weaners, we apply Buccalgesic to the side of their gums (orally). It usually takes around about 10 minutes before it kicks in and the cattle start responding to it. We used it when processing both heifers and steers, but our priority was using it on young bulls that were being castrated.

We started trialling Buccalgesic on our weaners in 2017 through the BIG program and then decided to continue with using it in 2018 through our own funds.

The decision to continue using the product was based on the response we saw in our cattle – namely that the weaners were not sulking and returned to normal behaviour (eating, drinking etc) quicker than those not treated.

The only issue we have had to be mindful of with the product is that it can fall out of the cattle’s mouth if not applied correctly. We found that applicator guns with a hook shape instead of a straight shape applicator tube are better suited.

I would recommend using Buccalgesic to other stations if they can work it into their program and budget. It works really well for us with our early weaning program where the weaners are kept in the yards. For other stations that turn weaners out into the paddock of good quality pasture immediately after processing, the benefits may be more subtle. It’s important for each owner and manager to measure up the pros and cons, and make sure they choose the type of pain relief that is right for their operation.

Either way, I think using anything which results in good animal welfare outcomes is good for our business.



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Van der Saag, D, Lomax, S, Windsor, PA, Taylor, C, White, PJ 2018 Evaluating treatments with topical anaesthesic and buccal meloxicam for pain and inflammation caused by amputation dehorning of calves, PLOS One, June 13, 2018.

*Heinrich, A, Duffield, TF, Lissemore, KD, Millman, ST 2010 The effect of meloxicam on behaviour and pain sensitivity of dairy calves following cautery dehorning and a local anaesthetic, J. Dairy Sci., Vol. 93, pp. 2450-2457.`

Allen, KA, Coetzee, JF, Edwards-Callaway, LN, Glynn, H, Dockweller, J, Kufanich, B, Lin, H, Wang, C, Fraccaro, E, Jones, M, Bergamasco, L 2012 The effect of timing of oral meloxicam administration on physiological responses in cales after cautery dehorning with local anaesthesia, J.Dairy Sci, Vol. 96, pp. 5194-5205.

White, P, Van der Saag, D, Windsor, P 2018 ‘Pain management during adversive procedures in extensively raised beef cattle, Meat and Livestock Australia, Final Report P.PSH.0654, Sydney.

McCarthy, D, Windsor, PA, Harris, C, Lomax, S, White, PJ 2016 ‘Effect of topical applied anaesthetic formulation on the sensitivity of scoop dehorning wounds in calves, PLOS One, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0163181 September 20, 2016.

Van der Saag, D, White, P, Ingram, L, Manning, J, Windsor, P, Lomax, S 2018, ‘Effects of topical anaesthetic and buccal meloxicam treatments on concurrent castration and dehorning of beef calves, Animals, Vol. 8, No. 35, pp. 1-16.


Small, AH, Belson, S, Holm, M, Colditz, IG 2014 Efficacy of a buccal meloxicam formulation for pain relief in Merino lambs undergoing knife castration and tail docking in a randomised field trial. Aust.Vet.J. Vol.92, pp.381-388.

Small, AH, Marini, D, Dyall, T, Paull, D, Lee, C 2018 A randomised field study evaluating the effectiveness of buccal meloxicam and topical local anaesthesia formulations administered singly or in combination at improving welfare of female merino lambs undergoing surgical mulesing and hot knife tail docking, Research in Veterinary Science, Vol. 118, pp. 305-311.


This article has been written by Mariah Maughan and Stephanie Coombes, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Broome, Western Australia.