Another toll pain takes on horses

Horses who aren't paying attention to their surroundings may be in pain, according to researchers.

A study from England suggests that a horse who isn’t paying attention to his surroundings may not be grumpy or depressed but instead may be in pain.

Researchers from the University of Bristol tested the reactions of 20 horses to novel objects—a pool “noodle” and a swimming flipper—and to sounds just prior to and after a surgical procedure. For comparison, the researchers documented the responses to the same stimuli of 16 control horses who did not undergo surgery.

A horse with his head over a stall door and his ears back, looking bored or in pain.
Horses who are not engaging in their surroundings may be in pain, according to a new study.

The data showed that horses who underwent surgery spent significantly less time interacting with novel objects immediately after the procedure than they had beforehand. No difference in interaction times was seen in the control horses when they encountered the unusual items a second time.

Click here to learn how to spot the signs of depression in horses. 

Similarly, the study horses were less likely to react to an unusual noise—from a hair dryer—after surgery, while the reactions of the control horses did not change from one exposure to the noise to the next.

The researchers conclude that postsurgical discomfort has an effect on response and startle times, and “tasks demanding attention may be useful as a biomarker of pain.”

Reference: “The effect of postsurgical pain on attentional processing in horses,Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia, May 2017

This article first appeared in EQUUS #483)

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