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BestBETs for Vets
Carprofen and local anaesthesia in calves undergoing disbudding
  1. Kathryn Wareham and
  2. Rachel Dean
  1. CEVM, University of Nottingham

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Clinical scenario

During a visit to one of your small hobby suckler herds, the owner asks you to disbud three suckler calves, born within the last few weeks. The last time she had animals disbudded with a hot iron she was upset by how the animals behaved after the procedure; she says they were ‘out of sorts’ and looked uncomfortable. While the owner knows the animals must be disbudded, she asks you whether analgesics as well as the local anaesthetic will reduce the pain. You assure her you always use local anaesthetic but you wonder if the addition of carprofen would decrease the level of discomfort experienced by the calves …

The question

In [calves undergoing non-chemical disbudding] does [the administration of carprofen in addition to local anaesthetic versus local anaesthetic alone] [decrease the behavioural indicators of discomfort associated with the procedure]?

Search strategy

The search strategy can be viewed at, it is also available as a supplement to this article on Veterinary Record's website at

Search outcome

▪ 56 papers found in Medline search

▪ 55 papers excluded as they did not meet the question

▪ One total relevant paper from Medline

▪ 113 papers found in CAB search

▪ 110 papers excluded as they did not meet the question

▪ One paper excluded as it was in a foreign language

▪ One paper excluded as it was a review article/in vitro research/conference proceedings

▪ One total relevant paper from CAB

▪ One relevant paper from both Medline and CAB Abstracts.

Search last performed

August 28, 2013.

Summary of evidence

Paper 1: Effects of hot-iron disbudding, using regional anaesthesia with and without carprofen, on cortisol and behaviour of calves (Stilwell and others 2012).

Patient group: Female calves undergoing hot-iron disbudding, eight to 10 weeks old.

Study type: Randomised controlled trial.

Outcomes: Plasma cortisol levels (measured for 24 hours after disbudding); the frequency of behavioural indicators of pain – head shakes, ear flicks, transitions, head rubs and total behaviours (measured for 24 hours after disbudding); and inert lying behaviour (measured for 24 hours after disbudding) were measured.

Key results: The group disbudded with local anaesthetic (LA) only showed significantly more total pain behaviours at 15 minutes, one, three and six hours than the group disbudded with LA plus carprofen (P<0.05). The lidocaine plus carprofen group showed no difference in pain behaviour indicators compared to the sham disbudded group at any time point (P>0.05 for all behaviour incidences). No statistically significant differences in the cortisol levels of LA only and lidocaine plus carprofen groups at one, three or six hours were seen (P>0.05).

Study weaknesses: Small group sizes (six calves per group for treatments of interest) with no sample size justification. Method of randomisation of calves to treatment groups not stated. Behaviour recording methods not clearly outlined. Baseline behaviour data not reported. Ethical approval not stated.


Bottom line

Administration of systemic carprofen along with lidocaine local anaesthetic reduces pain-related behaviours in the 24 hours following disbudding in calves.

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