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New veterinary paper calls for anaesthesia and analgesia use for pain management during goat disbudding

by Ellen Hardy
03 September 2018, at 10:02am

Anaesthesia must be used, and pain relief should be used, for all disbudding procedures in goat kids to minimise pain and unnecessary suffering, according to a joint position paper launched by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Goat Veterinary Society (GVS) today.

Disbudding is the surgical removal of the horn buds in some goats, usually within the first seven days of life, to prevent injury to themselves or other goats and livestock in their environment and to allow for safe management. The procedure involves cauterising the horn buds with hot irons after cutting off any well-developed tips.

If local anaesthesia is used, disbudding requires an effective block of four nerves to desensitise the buds, leading to a potentially toxic local anaesthetic overdose in a high-risk neonatal kid. Their skull is also very thin, and, in addition, many conventional calf disbudding irons do not have a large enough head to remove the bud and surrounding soft tissue effectively.

BVA and GVS’s ‘Goat kid disbudding and analgesia’ position paper recommends general anaesthesia induced prior to disbudding as the simplest and safest solution from a practitioner point of view, though the paper recognises that in skilled hands local anaesthesia can also provide a satisfactory solution, particularly for on-farm use.

Disbudding can also be stressful for goat kids, with evidence to show changes in behaviour and physiology associated with pain and distress during and after the procedure. In a survey carried out by GVS and referenced in the position paper, veterinary surgeons who between them disbud over 2,000 kids annually all reported using supplementary analgesia as a norm, without any adverse reactions.

In the absence of analgesics licensed for use in goats in the UK, and none licensed for any animal that’s only a few days’ old, the principles of the Cascade under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations (2013) should be applied when considering their use.

The paper further recognises that disbudding is a skilled, high-risk procedure and recommends that veterinary surgeons should be proficient in undertaking it if required by their role.

British Veterinary Association President John Fishwick said:

“The prevention and management of pain and unnecessary suffering in goats during and after the disbudding procedure was identified by BVA and GVS as essential for the health and welfare of the animals following the launch of BVA’s Animal welfare strategy in 2016, with the two organisations working closely together to put together an evidence-based best practice position and set of recommendations for the profession.

“Following a review of available evidence, we consider the use of appropriate anaesthesia and analgesia as vital to the welfare of goats at the time of disbudding, which is why I’d like to ask all veterinary surgeons working with goats to take our recommendations into account.

“Disbudding goat kids is a specialised procedure with potential risks and so it is important that vets carrying it out are highly proficient and aware of the potential hazards.”

Goat Veterinary Society Chairman David Harwood said:

“GVS is pleased to join BVA in developing this joint position on the disbudding of goat kids. Although it is not always necessary to remove the horn buds, when the procedure is carried out, the welfare of the kid should be of paramount importance.

“Any veterinary surgeon seeing goats on even an occasional basis may get in touch with the Goat Veterinary Society for help or advice on disbudding.”

The ‘Goat kid disbudding and analgesia position’ follows on the heels of BVA and the British Cattle Veterinary Association’s joint statement last year recommending the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in addition to local anaesthesia when conducting disbudding and castration in calves.