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Body behaviors and facial expressions associated with induced orthopedic pain in horses

Last changed: 08 July 2021
Horse in pain

Pain scales are tools developed to improve pain assessment in horses. They are based on behaviors and/or facial expressions, and the observer allocates a score based on the character of the behavior or facial expression. Little is known about behaviors and facial expressions at rest in horses with orthopedic pain since pain is mainly assessed by lameness evaluation during movement.

The aim of this study was to describe how closely equine behaviors and facial expressions are associated with movement asymmetry and to identify combinations of behavior and expressions present in horses with induced orthopedic pain.

Orthopedic pain was induced in eight horses and assessed in two ways; using four existing equine pain scales at rest, and by measuring movement asymmetry during movement. The association of behavior and facial expression items in the pain scales with actual lameness was analyzed.

Posture-related behavior showed the strongest association, while facial expressions varied between horses. These results show that pain scales for orthopedic pain assessment would benefit from including posture, head position, location in the box stall, focus, interactive behavior, and facial expressions. This could improve orthopedic pain detection in horses during rest with mild lameness.

Link to publication


Identification of body behaviors and facial expressions associated with induced orthopedic pain in four equine pain scales. (2020) K. Ask, M. Rhodin, L. Tamminen, E. Hernlund and P. Haubro Andersen. Animals, doi: 10.3390/ani10112155