Bergamasco, L., Edwards-Callaway, L. N., Bello, N. M. et al. 2021. Unmitigated surgical castration in calves of different ages: Electroencephalographic and neurohormonal findings. Animals 11(6), 1791.

Castration is a common management procedure employed in North American cattle production and is known to cause a pain response. The present study was designed to investigate the effect of unmitigated surgical castration on the electroencephalography (EEG) responses and plasma substance P (SP) concentrations in calves of different ages under the same experimental conditions. Thirty male Holstein calves in three age categories [<6 weeks (6W); 3 months (3M); 6 months (6M); 10 calves per age group] were used in the study. Calves were subjected to a simulated castration session (SHAM) followed 24 h later by surgical castration (CAST) without analgesia. An EEG analysis was performed before the procedure (i.e., baseline), at treatment, and 0–5, 5–10, and 10–20 min post-treatment for both SHAM and CAST, respectively. Blood samples were collected immediately prior to both treatments (time 0) and again at 1, 2, 4, 8, and 12 h after both treatments. The EEG results showed a three-way interaction between treatment, age, and time for delta and beta absolute power, beta relative power, total power, and median frequency (p = 0.004, p = 0.04, p = 0.04, p = 0.03, and p = 0.008, respectively). Following CAST, EEG total power decreased, and median frequency increased relative to SHAM in 6W and 3M calves only following treatment. For 6W and 3M calves, delta and beta absolute power increased at CAST and at later time points relative to SHAM. Marginal evidence for two-way interactions was noted between time and treatment and between age and treatment on the concentration of SP (p = 0.068 and p = 0.066, respectively). Substance P concentrations decreased in CAST treatment compared to SHAM at the later times (8 h: p = 0.007; 12 h: p = 0.048); 6W calves showed lower SP concentration at CAST relative to SHAM (p = 0.017). These findings indicate variation in EEG responses and in SP concentrations following unmitigated surgical castration in calves and that these responses may be age specific. These EEG findings have implications for supporting the perception of the pain associated with surgical castration in young calves and emphasize the urgency of pain mitigation strategies during routine husbandry practices such as castration, as typically implemented in North American cattle management.

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