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Use of analgesic drugs for pain management in sheep

Authors: Chambers JP, Lizarraga I
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 87-94, Mar 2012
Publisher: Taylor and Francis

Animal type: Livestock, Production animal, Ruminant, Sheep
Subject Terms: Anaesthesia/analgesia/sedation, Animal remedies/veterinary medicines, Antinflamatory, Behaviour, Locomotor, Pharmacology, Treatment/therapy
Article class: Review Article

Awareness of pain and its effects is increasing within the veterinary profession, but pain management in food animals has been neglected. Sheep seldom receive analgesics despite various conditions, husbandry practice and experimental procedures being known to be painful, e.g. footrot, mastitis, vaginal prolapse, castration, vasectomy, penis deviation, and laparoscopy. The evidence supporting use of analgesic drugs in this species is reviewed here. Opioid agonists are of dubious efficacy and are short acting α2-agonists such as xylazine are good, short-lived analgesics, but induce hypoxaemia. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ketoprofen provide long-lasting analgesia, but not as marked as that from α2-agonists; they should be more widely used for inflammatory pain. Local anaesthetics reliably block pain signals, but may also induce motor blockade. Balanced analgesia using more than one class of drug, such as an α2 agonist (e.g. medetomidine) and N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist (e.g. ketamine), with the combination selected for the circumstances, probably provides the best analgesia for severe pain. It should be noted that there are no approved analgesic drugs for use in sheep and therefore the use of such drugs in this species has to be off-label. This information may be useful to veterinary practitioners, biomedical researchers, and regulators in animal welfare to develop rational analgesic regimens which ultimately may improve the health and welfare of sheep in both farming and experimental conditions.

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