Pain Relief For Dehorning & Disbudding

We explain why pain relief should be given at dehorning and disbudding, and the options available.

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Pain relief for farm animals comes in two categories – local anaesthetics and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).

It is a legal requirement that cattle of all ages are given local anaesthetic for both disbudding and dehorning. The only exception is the use of disbudding paste when used at less than 7 days old.

It is safest and least stressful to disbud calves by 4 weeks old, using local anaesthetic to block the cornual nerve. For larger horns in older animals, an additional injection of local anaesthetic at the back of the horn, where another nerve develops with age, is beneficial.

Local anaesthetic wears off within a few hours. This potentially leaves the animal in pain for up to a few days after the procedure.

Why Give Pain Relief?

Welfare benefits aside, cattle that are not in pain, eat and drink more and grow faster because their feed efficiency is better.

For young calves, this is their most feed efficient period so, the better they grow now, the less they cost to reach target weight. The additional cost of the pain relief will be outweighed by the improved growth.

Dehorning larger growing animals may have a greater impact on their growth rates as it is more of an ordeal than removing horn buds. Removing larger horns should not be routine.

Signs Of Pain

  • Restlessness
  • Eating and drinking less
  • Calves unwilling to put their head through pen fronts or stay on feeders with their heads close together.

What Are The Options For Pain Relief?

  • Meloxicam (MetacamTM or MeloxidylTM). Up to 3 days of pain relief – given under the skin at the same time as the local anaesthetic
  • Ketoprofen (KetofenTM). Up to 24 hours pain relief so may need to be repeated – given in the muscle at the same time as the local anaesthetic
  • Transdermal FinadyneTM Lasts around 8-24 hours. This is a pain relief pour-on that can be useful for large batches of calves undergoing disbudding and/or castration. Applied to the backs of calves, if they are dry and stay dry for at least 6 hours after.


NSAIDs should not be given to dehydrated animals, due to potential gut and kidney damage. Also it is not advised to dehorn or disbud animals that are unwell e.g. with pneumonia or scours. Use scales or a weigh tape to accurately determine the weight of the animals to prevent overdose or under dose.


For maximum benefit and minimum cost, disbud calves under a month old, using both local anaesthetic and an appropriate NSAID product.

Please contact us if you’d like to discuss this further, or if you have any concerns about disbudding and dehorning.

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