Pain relief medication for beef cattle

Anecdotal evidence indicates an increased use of pain relief medication for cattle during routine husbandry procedures. The benefits of pain relief 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 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 dehorning (unless the animals are less than six months old or less than 12 months if at their first yarding and where the later age is approved in the jurisdiction – please check your relevant state legislation). Once the standards are implemented as Regulations under the Animal Welfare Act 2002, it will become an offence not to provide pain relief where mandated.

Pain relief medication: What are the options?

The following is a brief comparison of the pain relief products available with some key points for consideration.

Current pain relief products registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) for use in cattle are:

  • local anaesthetics:
    • topical application – Tri-Solfen® (available over the counter)
    • injectable formulations – Lignocaine (only administered by a veterinarian)
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (available by veterinarian prescription):
    • oral suspension – Buccalgesic®
    • injectable formulations – Meloxicam (eg Metacam), Flunixin meglumine, Ketoprofen.

Anaesthetic vs. analgesic

Anaesthetics and analgesics target different areas of the pain pathway. Local anaesthetics provide pain relief by temporarily blocking sensory function (i.e. numbing the area). Analgesics (which include NSAIDs) reduce physiological inflammatory pathways in the body, resulting in reduced cellular reaction to trauma and less triggers of pain.

Anaesthetics and analgesics can be used individually or together for pain relief. Anaesthetics have an almost immediate effect (while the procedure is being carried out), while analgesics provide longer lasting pain relief (by facilitating the healing process). Injectable anaesthetics and analgesics are primarily used under direct veterinary supervision.

Price and dose

The price will vary depending on the quantity of product purchased. The dose rate of NSAIDs is calculated by the weight of the animal, while the amount of local anaesthetics administered depends on both the weight and the number of application sites, i.e. whether you are both dehorning and castrating, or just performing one procedure.

Which pain relief medication 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. Some products are only available under veterinary supervision.

Some key considerations are:

  • What type and method of procedures are to be performed?
  • What is the age (and size) of the animals?
  • Who will be applying the pain relief? Do they have the skills required?
  • What is the withholding period?
  • Price per unit applied
  • Number of livestock to be treated (most injectables need to be discarded 28 days after opening)
  • Possible re-treatments (Buccalgesic cannot be administered again for 21 days)
  • What is the shelf life of the product?
  • What are the storage conditions? (Many products require storage below 30 degrees and protected from light).
Product nameTri-SolfenBuccalgesicMetacam
ManufacturerBayerTroy PharmaceuticalBoehringer Ingelheim
Product descriptionLocal anaesthetic which blocks sensory function. Also contains adrenaline (constricts blood vessels to reduce bleeding) and an antiseptic. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which targets the inflammation that causes pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which targets the inflammation that causes pain.
CompositionLignocaine and Bupivicaine (short and long acting local anaesthetics), Adrenaline (aids in control of bleeding) and Cetrimide (antiseptic).Meloxicam 10 mg/ml in a buccal (cheek) formulation. Designed for retention in the buccal cavity, and absorption across the mucous membrane.There are two formulations.

Meloxicam 20 mg/ml in an injectable solution.

Meloxicam 40 mg/ml, registered for cattle only (stronger formulation to allow reduced volume of injection, particularly for heavier cattle).
Purpose· Pain relief
· Reduces bleeding
· Reduces risk of bacterial infection
· Assists 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 in calves following castration, dehorning or disbudding.For alleviation of pain associated with the routine husbandry procedures of castration, dehorning or disbudding of calves. 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 any 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)
0.5 mg/kg bodyweight (2.5 ml/100 kg) subcutaneous or intravenous injection administered at least 10 minutes before dehorning, and can 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.
Three applications (one third of the dose to each incision of the spermatic cord and the final third to the edges of scrotal incision).

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, 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® 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 minutes.10-15 minutes.
Manufacturer’s claimed period of reliefCastration:
Up to 24 hours.

Up to 24 hours.
24-72 hours.

Research suggests up to 44 hours.
24-72 hours.

Research suggests up to 44 hours.
Meat Withholding Period90 days14 days Metacam 20 mg/ml: 8 days

Metacam 40 mg/ml: 11 days
Export Slaughter Interval (ESI)90 days 21 daysMetacam 20 mg/ml: No ESI as this concentration usually used for calves.

Metacam 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.Schedule 4: Requires veterinary prescription.Schedule 4: Requires veterinary prescription.
Presentation1 L, 5 L, 20 L200 mlMetacam 20 mg/ml injection (vial):
50 ml, 100 ml, 250 ml.

Metacam 40 mg/ml injection (vial):
50 ml, 100 ml.

For more information

Guide to the use of pan relief in the grass-fed beef cattle sector (Cattle Council of Australia).



Olson, ME, Ralston, B, Burwash, L, Matheson-Bird, H, Allan, ND 2016 Efficacy of oral meloxicam suspension for prevention of pain and inflammation following band and surgical castration in calves, BMC Veterinary Research, Vol 12, No. 102, pp. 1-11.

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 calves 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.


Reviewed by Mick Sullivan and Roxanne Morgan, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.