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News Article

Intramuscular injections: risk of nerve injury in dairy cattle


Common injection practices in UK dairy cattle put the sciatic nerve at risk of iatrogenic damage due to choice of injection site, research suggests.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham investigated the risk of sciatic nerve damage in dairy cattle following intramuscular injections into the gluteal region. Sciatic nerve damage could lead to pain, paralysis and lameness, creating welfare and productivity issues. Although the study was not able to directly assess sciatic nerve damage, it demonstrates that the nerve is at risk of damage from current common injection practice. The findings are published in Veterinary Record.

Dr Wendela Wapenaar, Associate Professor of Farm Animal Health and Epidemiology, led the project at the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

She said: “Improving animal welfare is one of our key aims as vets, and for a long time I have been wanting to answer the question around the risk of damaging the sciatic nerve when injecting dairy cattle in this gluteal region.

“Our study confirms a high risk of damaging this nerve when injecting cows in the gluteal region (the rump or back end of the cow). In beef cattle, farmers and vets are already avoiding this region because of the value of the primal cut meat, however in dairy cattle this site is still used because of convenience.

“In our experiment, we asked anyone who had injected cattle in the gluteal region before to inject the left and right gluteal region in a cadaver, as if it were ‘a normal cow’. To our surprise, 69 per cent of participants injected within 5 cm from the sciatic nerve and several participants injected right onto the sciatic nerve. We also discovered that the nerve was a lot wider than ever before reported in textbooks; in the gluteal region, the nerve was 3.5 to 4.5 cm wide, making it more difficult to avoid. The depth of the nerve was variable; the shallowest point between the skin surface and nerve was only 2.5 cm; this depth was dependent on the cow’s body condition.”

This research was carried out as part of a veterinary undergraduate research module and started in 2015.

Dr Wapenaar has been working closely with Rosanna Kirkwood, an undergraduate student with a keen interest in farm animal health.

She said: “Based on our study findings, I strongly advise to inject all cattle in the neck where possible; when this is not feasible and the gluteal region is used as a site for intramuscular injection then a more lateral location should be chosen. The region between the tuber coxae (hook bone) and the tuber ischium (pin bone) has a substantial muscle mass, and there are no underlying neurological structures at risk. This small change in injection technique may prevent nerve damage and we hope farmers and vets will take this advice on, so we may see less cows with sciatic nerve damage in the future and avoid inflicting pain unnecessarily.”

Article: Risk of iatrogenic damage to the sciatic nerve in dairy cattle by Rosanna M Kirkwood, John G Remnant, Richard M Payne, Alan M Murphy and Wendela Wapenaar, published in Veterinary Record, online 2 November 2017, doi: 10.1136/vr.104429

Article details

  • Date
  • 15 November 2017
  • Source
  • University of Nottingham
  • Subject(s)
  • Food Animals