The Government is being urged to elevate veterinarians to critical worker status to help ease an acute shortage.
The survey, by two large South Island vet companies, concludes that more study is needed of the onfarm use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The results were presented in a paper by Mark Bryan, Elena Knupfer and Shen-Yan Hea, of VetSouth, Winton and Invercargill, to the NZ Veterinary Association conference in Hamilton last week.
Amongst all farmers, animal welfare was the main reason for giving NSAIDs to animals, followed by vets' advice and return on investment, the survey found. The importance of animal welfare increased with the usage level of NSAID.
The cost of the product, withholding periods and non-veterinary advice were more important for low NSAID users than high NSAID users.
NSAID use was associated with empathy for and perception of pain in the animal. High NSAID users tended to perceive higher levels of animal pain compared with low users. For most conditions, vets perceived an equal or higher level of pain in animals than the high users.
Vets perceived lower levels of pain than farmers in cases of gut surgery, dystocia, caesarean section and sick cows. This may reflect their greater exposure and familiarity with these conditions.
However, a 2009 survey of NZ dairy vets found that claw amputation, caesarean section and LDA (left side displacement of abomasum) surgery were ranked the highest with regard to painful procedures.
High NSAID farmer users were likely to be more animal welfare conscious and empathetic to animal pain than low NSAID users. High NSAID farmer users were more likely to be younger and have less experience in the industry but were likely to be engaged with the vets they deal with. They were also more likely to be ranked as 'A' clients. It is likely this engagement and linkage with vets informs their decision making.
Low NSAID users tended to have greater experience in the dairy industry.
Although NSAIDs have been available since the 1980s, their adoption commercially in NZ has been slow, and this finding may reflect the fact that older and more experienced clients may not be as familiar with their use as younger clients with less experience in the dairy industry, the paper says.
Older clients may be more resistant to new ideas concerning animal welfare.
Low NSAID users were more cost conscious and were influenced by other factors such as withholding periods, treatment length and non-veterinary sources of information and advice.
Low NSAID users were less likely to be aware of the potential benefits of NSAID treatment.
The level of NSAID use in animals did not appear to be associated with personal pain experiences/perception or personal NSAID use.
"These results are an important step towards understanding the factors that may influence NSAID use in animals, and help identify areas of opportunity to improve animal welfare outcomes for some potentially painful dairy procedures," the paper concluded. Further research was needed.
Two large vet practices were selected for the study, which began with electronic surveys being distributed to a random selection of dairy clients in the practices' databases.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in cattle, and are often used with antibiotics to treat disease and reduce pain and inflammation after trauma or surgical/painful interventions (Smith 2005, Anderson and Muir 2005).
They were first introduced in the 1980s primarily for the treatment of acute mastitis.
In the NZ pastoral system the use of antimicrobials is relatively low; globally NZ is the third-lowest user of antimicrobials.
The rate in the dairy industry is also lower than in other countries. However, the rate of use of NSAIDs is still relatively unknown in NZ, the paper says.