Horn Talk Blog

Dehorning and Analgesia: Practical or a Pain?

Posted by Dave Lucas on Thu, Jul 7, 2011

Last week’s blog about the Mercy For Animals undercover video showing dehorning in the same context as egregious animal abuse led one reader to comment:

"Analgesia and sedation are not practical, as some users will skip them to save time, leaving the industry open to videos of abuse."

The writer is correct about some producers skipping analgesia during dehorning. Although the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends the use of pain relief for procedures like dehorning, a survey of U.S. dairy farms found only 12 percent of producers used anesthetic (nerve block) on dehorned calves, and only two percent used analgesia (pain relief). A similar survey of Ontario dairy farms found 23 percent of producers use lidocaine nerve blocks at the time of dehorning.

Yes, administering pain-relieving injections and/or medications takes time and costs money. But it’s the right thing to do. Not only because of the AVMA recommendation, but also because pain relief reduces stress on the animal, potentially impacting everything from weight gain to disease resistance. And, to the writer’s point, using analgesia and/or sedation leaves the producer less vulnerable to accusations of animal abuse.

Options for pain relief include xylazine to help calm the animal, lidocaine, an injectable anesthetic (nerve block) to control acute pain, and ketoprofen, a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for post-operative pain relief. Most important, early-age disbudding with caustic paste has been shown to be less painful than hot-iron dehorning, even when a local anesthetic is used.

Do you use pain relief for dehorning? Why or why not?


Todd Duffield, DVM, DVSc. Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. Current Data on Dehorning Calves, AABP Proceedings, Vol. 41, September 2008.

Vickers, K.J. et al. Calf Response to Caustic Paste and Hot-Iron Dehorning Using Sedation With and Without Local Anesthetic. April 2005. J. Dairy Sci. 88:1454-1459.

Topics: Pain Relief, AVMA Policy, Hot-Iron Dehorning