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Identifying and monitoring pain in farm animals: a review

  • A. Prunier (a1), L. Mounier (a2) (a3), P. Le Neindre (a4), C. Leterrier (a5), P. Mormède (a6), V. Paulmier (a3), P. Prunet (a7), C. Terlouw (a3) and R. Guatteo (a8)...


One important objective for animal welfare is to maintain animals free from pain, injury or disease. Therefore, detecting and evaluating the intensity of animal pain is crucial. As animals cannot directly communicate their feelings, it is necessary to identify sensitive and specific indicators that can be easily used. The aim of the present paper is to review relevant indicators to assess pain in several farm species. The term pain is used for mammals, birds and fish, even though the abilities of the various species to experience the emotional component of pain may be different. Numerous behavioural changes are associated with pain and many of them could be used on farms to assess the degree of pain being experienced by an animal. Pain, as a stressor, is associated with variations in the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis as well as in the sympathetic and immune systems that can be used to identify the presence of pain rapidly after it started. However, most of these measures need sophisticated equipment for their assessment. Therefore, they are mainly adapted to experimental situations. Injuries and other lesional indicators give information on the sources of pain and are convenient to use in all types of situations. Histopathological analyses can identify sources of pain in experimental studies. When pronounced and/or long lasting, the pain-induced behavioural and physiological changes can decrease production performance. Some indicators are very specific and sensitive to pain, whereas others are more generally related to stressful situations. The latter can be used to indicate that animals are suffering from something, which may be pain. Overall, this literature review shows that several indicators exist to assess pain in mammals, a few in birds and very few in fish. Even if in some cases, a single indicator, usually a behavioural indicator, may be sufficient to detect pain, combining various types of indicators increases sensitivity and specificity of pain assessment. Research is needed to build and validate new indicators and to develop systems of pain assessment adapted to each type of situation and each species.


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