Caring for compromised cattle: Pain identification and management


Source: Ontario Farm Animal Council


An unpleasant sensation occurring in varying degrees of severity as a result of injury or disease. Signs of pain and suffering may include one or more of the following:

  • Unwillingness to rise to its feet
  • Restlessness, lying down and getting up frequently
  • Unwillingness to walk
  • Reluctant to put a leg on the ground and bear weight
  • Mouth open, breathing fast
  • Arched back and abdomen tucked up
  • Head down, ears drooping
  • Unwilling to eat or drink
  • Standing separate from group, not following group
  • No response when touched or prodded


The use of pain medications in treating sick or injured cattle has been underutilized on many farms in the past. Cattle suffering from ailments such as lameness or mastitis would benefit if the pain associated with the condition could be reduced. Recent studies have shown that reducing pain in sick animals decreases healing time and improves appetite. Some pain medications (analgesics) also decrease fever and inflammation (are anti-inflammatory) and thus may improve outcomes through other pathways as well.

Remember that not all pain or anti-inflammatory medications are equal. Similar to the use of an ineffective antibiotic, if a pain medication is not producing the desired effect, you should consult with your veterinarian regarding an alternative product or action.

Producers are encouraged to discuss pain management options with their veterinarian.