Australian veterinary journal

The effect of a topical anaesthetic formulation, systemic flunixin and carprofen, singly or in combination, on cortisol and behavioural responses of Merino lambs to mulesing.

PMID 17359309


To determine the pain responses of lambs to mulesing, and the effectiveness of potential analgesic treatments. Merino lambs (n=64) were allocated at 5 weeks of age to eight treatment groups: 1) sham mules; 2) conventional mules; 3) topical anaesthetic, incorporating lignocaine, bupivicaine, adrenaline and cetrimide, applied immediately after mulesing; 4) flunixin + topical anaesthetic, with flunixin administered 2.5 mg/kg s.c. 90 min before mulesing; 5) carprofen + topical anaesthetic, with carprofen administered 4 mg/kg s.c. 90 min before mulesing; 6) carprofen, administered as above; 7) flunixin, administered as above; and 8) carprofen + flunixin, administered as above. Plasma cortisol was measured at 0, 0.5, 6, 12 and 24 h relative to mulesing. Animal behaviour, including posture, was recorded for 12 h after mulesing. The conventional mules lambs exhibited large increases in plasma cortisol, reduced lying and increased standing with a hunched back compared with sham mules animals. Topical anaesthetic reduced the cortisol peak to mulesing and hunched standing, and increased lying compared with the conventional mules treatment, but generally did not result in values equivalent to sham mules animals. Carprofen, flunixin, and carprofen + flunixin treatments did not reduce the cortisol response to mulesing but substantially ameliorated some changes in behavioural postures. Flunixin + topical anaesthetic reduced the cortisol peak following mulesing and substantially ameliorated most changes in behavioural postures. Carprofen + topical anaesthetic abolished the cortisol peak following mulesing and substantially ameliorated most changes in behavioural postures. All mulesed animals lost weight in the week after mulesing regardless of analgesic administration, but there were no significant differences in growth rate between any of the eight treatments over the 3 weeks after mulesing. Analgesics can moderate the pain response of lambs to mulesing. The welfare outcome for lambs of mulesing could be improved by use of a combination of local anaesthetic and long acting non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.