The Flunixin Fix 'Em Dilemma

Posted: August 25, 2011

Misunderstandings lead to misuse of this valuable product.

Currently, the dairy and veterinary press is full of concerns about residues — primarily antibiotics — in meat and milk supplies. Until a few years ago the residue issue was almost exclusively antibiotics, with lesser concern with antehelmintics (wormers) or other therapeutics. Most producers could understand the connection between withholding times in milk and withdrawal times for meat. Multiple on-farm screening tests are available for milk and a few were available for screening urine prior to the sale of market cattle. These commonly screen for classes of antibiotics and producers may have inadvertently assumed that a negative result from one of these tests indicated milk and/or meat was free from all residues, not just antibiotics.

Many producers are aware of the therapeutic value of flunixin meglumine. Fewer seem to be aware of the issues associated with its use in a non-approved manner

In the late 1990s, early 2000s, many cattle were noted at packing plants to have muscle blemishes. Tests of these blemished areas were not positive for antibiotics. Further analysis revealed these blemished areas were caused by a variety of anti-inflammatory therapeutics. Phenybutazone and dipyrone were banned substances for use in cattle, due to their potential harmful effects for people. The blemishes persisted and most proved to be due to intramuscular use of flunixin meglumine, Banamine ® (Schering  Plough).

This product has some very attractive properties for use in cattle. For toxic cattle or cattle with a high fever, it can be a life saver. It can help relieve inflammation and help modulate pain associated with many conditions, including pain associated with lameness. In the current push to be more proactive in cattle herd health programs and more humane in animal care, for many veterinarians and producers it seemed logical to add flunixin megulumine to many protocols. This product has a 36-hour milk withhold and a 96-hour meat withdrawal time when given intravenously (IV). It is important to note these times correspond to IV use. Further in the package insert it lists that this compound is not to be given to pre-ruminating calves (veal).

The major issues related to residues and blemishes appear to be a misunderstanding about the use of flunixin meglumine in non-approved ways. Because flunixin meglumine has a wide bio-availability and gets picked up in many tissues, it works when given orally or when given intramuscular (IM) or subcutaneously (SQ). However, in cattle all of these uses would be considered Extra Label and could only be done according to the Animal Medicinal Use and Clarification Act (AMDUCA) under the direct instruction of your veterinarian under a valid Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR).

Furthermore instructions must contain an extended withdrawal and withholding times and specific instructions when the product could be used in a site other than IV. Convenience or economics would not be valid reasons. Also, protocols on farms might include small doses of flunixin meglumine for heifer calves with diarrhea or pneumonia; however flunixin meglumine must not be used in calves that might enter the food chain as bob veal. Even though bull calves may suffer the some sorts of medical problems as heifers, if bulls are to be sold as calves they should have treatment protocols designed specifically for them.

Many producers are aware of the good therapeutic value of flunixin meglumine for many conditions in their cattle; fewer producers seem to be aware of the issues associated with the use of flunixin meglumine in non-approved manners. It is important for producers and their veterinarians to be aware that IM or SQ injection of flunixin meglumine causes a very easy-to-spot blemish. Failure to follow extended withdrawal times if IM or SQ use has been recommended will likely mean that blemished areas on the carcasses will be targeted for additional residue testing.

Review of the recent APHIS testing data indicates that many violations due to flunixin have been found. The AMDUCA legislation requires that extra label use of therapeutics can only be done under the supervision of a veterinarian in a valid VCPR. Records must be kept. Label instructions must be complete and include adequate withdrawal and withholding times. Finally, extra label use is not permitted if residues occur which might present a risk to the public. Producers and their veterinarians are under increasing scrutiny by food safety officials and the FDA. It is very important that effective therapeutics for livestock are used wisely so that their use can be preserved.

Compendium of Veterinary Products, 12th Edition, 2010  (National Program Standards updated 2010)

- By Dr. David Wolfgang, Penn State Extension veterinarian