NSAIDs may reduce cattle shipping stress

Published on: Feb 18, 2014

Most cattle are transported by truck at least once during their lifetime.

During transit, calves become stressed and thus are more susceptible to developing lung infections such as bovine respiratory disease (BRD). The effects of stress on the cattle result in significant economic losses to producers due to increased medication costs associated with sickness, and losses associated with decreased performance.

Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture, a multi-institutional team led by researchers at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine hopes to better understand post-transit changes in cattle and assess the impact of a long-acting, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), meloxicam, on reducing stress and improving the immune function and health of feedlot cattle.

"BRD costs the beef industry approximately $700 million per year," Dr. Hans Coetzee, associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at Iowa State University, said. "NSAIDs include drugs like aspirin that reduce pain and inflammation. In our first study, we looked at the pre-shipment administration of meloxicam to see if this would reduce the negative impact of long-distance transportation on animal well-being. We found that meloxicam does, in fact, reduce the stress response in calves after shipping."

Since meloxicam is not currently labeled for use in cattle in the U.S., the investigators hope that with further research these findings will help support such an approval in the future.

"Long-term, our team is focused on exploring ways to minimize the negative effects of transportation on livestock health and performance," Coetzee said. "Finding effective disease prevention strategies in U.S. beef production systems is a critical need within the industry. Transit stress has long lasting impact on cattle health. Mitigating the impact of stress during shipping will improve the overall health of feedlot calves."

The meloxicam study is the first part of the project. Next, researchers will determine the impact of meloxicam on overall feedlot disease risk and performance and then correlate post-transportation biomarkers with subsequent health, performance and carcass characteristics.

The findings of the study, "Impact of Oral Meloxicam on Circulating Physiological Biomarkers of Stress and Inflammation in Beef Steers After Long-Distance Transportation," was published in the February Journal of Animal Science.