Food Animal Drugs

Food Animal Standing Sedation Protocols

Cattle surgery is typically performed standing. Bloat occurs rapidly in the recumbent animal and can lead to respiratory difficulty and poor venous return to the heart. Cattle may not even require sedation but will stand quite well for surgery using only local anesthesia (local block or epidural). Recumbent surgery is required for hernia repair, some abdominal procedures and for many teat surgeries.

Cow eating during abdominal surgery lab

Any surgical procedure in a non-anesthetized cow (standing or recumbent) involves some form of local analgesia.  We typically use lidocaine as a local infusion, inverted “L” block, or paravertebral block for abdominal surgeries.  An epidural block with lidocaine may be used for rectal or vaginal procedures.

Note: Most small ruminant procedures are performed with the patient recumbent. Camelids will tend to kush (lie down) regardless of what you do but some will stay standing. Pigs do the opposite of whatever you want and noisily.

Local block

Short clip of a DA surgery (all of mine show only close ups). Despite what he thinks, the cows do not usually need sedation or show any concerns with internal palpation. The skin incision does require a local block!

This one is older (no drape, no sleeves) but is a cool explanation of how to do a Csection – see on youtube

Standing anesthesia protocols

The following protocols are useful for those dairy and beef cattle that are a bit more restless, worried, or aggressive, but not so recalcitrant that they throw themselves down on the ground (Scottish Highlanders) or so tired of life that they just lie down (pregnant Jerseys):

Acepromazine/Butorphanol or Acepromazine/Morphine

This combination provides neuroleptanalgesia for moderately to lengthy procedures. It is very useful for C-sections or penile exams/surgery in healthy animals that aren’t hypotensive.

The onset of action is slow. Anticipate at least 20 minutes, even with iv administration. The drugs can be given iv, im or sq.

Acepromazine 0.035 mg/kg im + Butorphanol 0.05 mg/kg im or Morphine 0.1 mg/kg im


This combination provides synergistic sedation + analgesia for shorter to midlength procedures.

The onset of action is rapid. The drugs can be given iv, im or sq. Too much sedation will lead to recumbency.

Xylazine 0.05 mg/kg im + Butorphanol 0.05 mg/kg im or Morphine 0.1 mg/kg im


This combination provides sedation for moderate to lengthy procedures. It does cause significant cardiovascular depression; animals must be healthy. It avoids narcotics and narcotic management.

The full onset of action is delayed up to 20 minutes.. The drugs can be given iv, im or sq. Too much sedation will lead to recumbency.

Xylazine 0.05 mg/kg im + Acepromazine 0.05 mg/kg im

Standing Ketamine Stun (xylazine, ketamine, butorphanol)

This combination provides dissociative anesthesia and analgesia. Cattle get a stunned effect and don’t seem to care about much of anything. Higher doses can lead to recumbency. Unfortunately, stunned cattle are resistant to attempts to make them stand up again. This is a lovely combo for hind limb work or when they just won’t behave.

The bovine standing ket stun is basically Llama lullaby with lower xylazine amounts.

Bovine ketamine standing stun:

  • IV: xylazine 0.02-0.0275 mg/kg, butorphanol 0.02-0.1 mg/kg, ketamine 0.05-0.1 mg/kg
    • for a 500-600kg cow, this is ~ 5 mg butorphanol, 10 mg xylazine and 20 mg ketamine (25-50 mg) [5-10-20]
    • lasts 30-40 min
    • if more is required, 1/2 of ketamine + 1/2 butorphanol or 1/4 xylazine
  • Double the doses for im or sq stuns (less intense, longer duration). Try SQ unless the animal is very unruly.
  • To provide heavier sedation, ketamine (50-60 mg vs 20 mg) can be given im while xylazine and butorphanol are given iv
  • Morphine can be used in cattle instead of butorphanol (0.05 mg/kg iv).

Cow prestun

Cow poststun

Remember withholding requirements apply! There are no labeled drugs for food animal sedation or anesthesia so everything is off label.


Recovery is easy. Surgery is often performed in the cow’s stanchion or in a “maternity” (calving) pen. When done, the cow is left to recover in the pen or stall or walked to another area. Cows are just plain cool.


Chemical restraint of ruminants- ketamine stun techniques, Abrahamsen circa 2008

Field Sedation and Anesthesia of Ruminants, August 2016, Veterinary Clinics of North America Food Animal Practice 32(3)– has good information on duration of effect of various protocols. There are typos in the article. Correct the doses to xylazine 0.05mg/kg im + butorphanol 0.1mg/kg im + ketamine 0.5 mg/kg im for the ket stun

Local blocks, Kathy Whitman, Great Plains Education Center (ppt will download)



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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.