Espinoza, C., Lomax, S., Windsor, P. 2020. The effect of topical anaesthesia on the cortisol responses of calves undergoing dehorning. Animals 10(2), 312.

Dehorning causes pain and distress to cattle, and there is a need to provide effective and practical analgesia to improve animal welfare. We conducted an experiment to determine the effect of a modified post-operative topical wound management formulation containing two local anaesthetics (TA) on the plasma cortisol concentration (PCC) of scoop-dehorned calves. Two months old Holstein-Friesian heifer calves (n = 30) were randomly allocated to sham dehorning control (CON), scoop dehorning (D), or scoop dehorning with immediate post-operative application of the TA (DTA). Blood samples were obtained via jugular venepuncture prior to sham or actual dehorning, and 40 min, 1.5, 4 and 24 h later. PCC changed significantly over time (p < 0.01). There was a trend for lower PCC in DTA calves compared to D calves (p = 0.09), with the PCC area under the curve lowest in CON calves as compared to D and DTA calves (p = 0.02). Cortisol concentrations were similar between D and DTA at all time points. The TA did not reduce cortisol concentrations up to 24 h following treatment and the cortisol response likely reflects the pain induced by the procedure, the effect of handling and restraint, and haemorrhaging which limited adherence of the TA actives. A multimodal analgesic approach, as assessed through multiple pain indicators, should be the focus of future work.

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