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Tackling Pain In Cattle

01 February 2010

DENMARK - Veterinarians apparently differ in whether they resort to prescribing pain relief or not. A survey among Scandinavian bovine practitioners undertaken by scientists from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at Aarhus University in collaboration with colleagues from universities in England, Sweden and Norway reveals that there is a link between the age of the veterinarians and their attitude to pain relief.

Younger veterinarians are more likely to treat the pain, while veterinarians with more years behind them have a greater tendency to leave things to nature.

"In the last 10-15 years we have learned a lot about pain and pain relief in farm animals, particularly in connection with routine procedures such as castration and dehorning, and today we know that farm animals also feel pain and are adversely affected by it. The new knowledge has led to new legislation on the use of anaesthetics in connection with castration and dehorning, and probably also increased the veterinarians’ awareness of pain and its treatment in farm animals – particularly the younger veterinarians, who – I guess – were taught this already during their studies," says senior scientist Mette S. Herskin from the Department of Animal Health and Bioscience at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences.

"The new knowledge should preferably be communicated out to all veterinarians and in this connection it is important to understand the positions and attitudes of veterinarians to the use of pain relief," she says.

This is why the scientists decided to examine the attitudes of bovine practitioners to pain and pain relief in cows and calves. The investigation consisted of a questionnaire that was completed by 352 veterinarians from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The veterinarians were, for example, asked which factors influence them when they choose to administer pain relief, and what their general attitudes are to pain and pain relief in cows and calves.

The results show that veterinarians with many years behind them to a larger extent than their younger colleagues believe that relieving pain can mask the actual progression of the disease itself. Older veterinarians also have a greater tendency to think that a certain level of pain can be desirable to avoid excessive physical activity of the animal. Older veterinarians are also more concerned with the risk of side effects.

The younger veterinarians in the study were significantly more likely to prescribe pain relief than their older colleagues. Many of the younger veterinarians gave the reason for using analgesics that its use in combination with other treatments can have a positive effect on the healing process – something which recent results indicate is often the case.

"There are far more women among the younger generation of veterinarians. We cannot therefore rule out that it is a gender thing," explains senior scientist and veterinarian Peter T. Thomsen from the Department of Animal Health and Bioscience.

The study was financed by the pharmaceutical company Boehringer-Ingelheim.

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