Efficacy of buprenorphine for management of surgical castration pain in piglets

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Background: Surgical castration is a painful procedure, performed routinely on commercial pig farms to prevent boar taint and reduce aggression. The objectives of this study were to assess the efficacy of 0.04 mg/kg buprenorphine (BUP) in reducing pain in castrated piglets, using behavioral indicators and vocalization analysis. This study also sought to further validate the Piglet Grimace Scale (PGS) as a pain assessment tool. A pilot study first assessed the safety of BUP or 0.2 mg/kg butorphanol administration to piglets (n = 4 per treatment). When no side effects were noted with BUP, ten litters of 5-day old piglets (n = 60 total, 15 per treatment group) were used, and randomly assigned to one of four possible treatments: BUP (castrated or uncastrated), saline, or sham. Treatments were administered as an intramuscular injection 20 min prior to surgical castration. Piglets were video recorded 1 h pre-procedure, post-castration for 8 h and for another hour, 24 h post-procedure. Behaviors were scored continuously for the first 15 min of each hour and 511 still-images of piglet faces were scored using the PGS. Vocalizations were recorded from each piglet at three points in the study: at initial handling, injection, and castration. Results: Butorphanol caused some piglets to become groggy and vomit and was not further evaluated. BUP-castrated piglets demonstrated significantly fewer pain behaviors and less facial grimacing compared to saline-treated pigs (P < 0.0001 and P = 0.0073, respectively). There was no difference between the pain behaviours displayed by BUP-castrated piglets compared to BUP-uncastrated and sham piglets (P = 0.9986 and P = 0.7484). There was also no difference in PGS score between BUP-castrated and BUP-uncastrated piglets (P = 0.9376). Piglets in the BUP-castrated group produced vocalizations of similar frequency, amplitude, power, and energy to saline-treated piglets. Conclusions: Buprenorphine was highly effective in alleviating castration-associated pain behaviors and facial grimacing in piglets, without causing any obvious side effects. Its administration did not reduce piglet vocalizations at the time of castration. The PGS corresponded well to piglet pain behaviors and has utility as a pain assessment tool.




Viscardi, A. V., & Turner, P. V. (2018). Efficacy of buprenorphine for management of surgical castration pain in piglets. BMC Veterinary Research, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-018-1643-5

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