Renewed focus on pain relief

2021 was a year of renewed focus on pain relief, and that’s set to continue in 2022.

Red Tractor updates included a recommendation to use pain relief for husbandry procedures such as disbudding / dehorning. Whilst local anaesthetic prevents pain during the actual procedure, longer term pain relief in the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) improves wellbeing and helps calves bounce back to normal behaviours.1

Earlier in the year, Ruminant Health and Welfare (RH&W) held a workshop where they identified increased use of pain management as an opportunity to improve ruminant welfare across the UK at little extra cost. The vice chairman Gwyn Jones said afterwards “We discussed cattle and sheep welfare on-farm, identified positive interventions which could be easily implemented, and considered how these could be promoted. Increased use of pain management was highlighted as the one which could make the most immediate impact, offering significant welfare improvements.”

2022 should see opportunities for vets and producers working together to put these recommendations into practice, alongside other measures to improve health and welfare. Developing farm protocols for pain management could form part of the DEFRA funded Annual Health and Welfare Reviews which are due to start in 2022.

Many calves are now routinely given anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as Metacam®, before procedures such as disbudding / dehorning, to reduce discomfort once the effects of local anaesthetic have worn off.

  • Compared with calves given local anaesthetic alone, calves that also receive Metacam® have been shown to have1:
    • significantly lower cortisol levels (a measure of stress)
    • significantly lower heart and respiratory rates over 24 hours post dehorning
    • significantly less pain sensitivity at horn buds– almost twice as great in control vs Metacam® treated calves
    • significantly less pain behaviour indicated by less ear flicking and less head shaking
  • Metacam®-treated calves gained significantly more weight over 10 days post dehorning in another study2

Other common painful situations when Metacam® is commonly used include calf scour (alongside rehydration therapy), respiratory disease and mastitis (both alongside appropriate antibiotic therapy).

The performance and welfare benefits associated with using NSAIDs begs the question ‘why wouldn’t pain relief such as Metacam® be used? Producers should discuss procedures with their own vet and develop a protocol for any potentially painful conditions.

Metacam 20mg/ml InjectionMetacam 20mg/ml Injection
from £49.96 ex VATfrom £59.95 inc VAT
Metacam 15mg/ml Oral Suspension Pigs 100ml
£71.90 ex VAT£86.28 inc VAT

Article supplied by Boehringer Ingelheim, makers of Metacam.


  1. Heinrich et al (2010) J. Dairy Sci. 93:2450–2457
  2. Coetzee et al. (2012) BMC Vet Res 8(1):153.

Metacam® 20 mg/ml solution for injection for cattle, pigs and horses and Metacam® 40 mg/ml solution for injection for cattle and horses contain meloxicam. UK: POM-V. Advice should be sought from the prescriber. Further information available in the SPC or from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd, RG12 8YS, UK. Tel: 01344 746957. Email:

Metacam® is a registered trademark of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica GmbH, used under licence. ©2022 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd. All rights reserved. Date of preparation: January 2022 BOV-0003. All rights reserved. Use Medicines Responsibly.

1st February 2022

Back to news