The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.”
Recognition of pain in horses and other animals is important out of a medical, ethical and welfare point of view: pain is a manifestation of disease and/or injury and as such decreases animal welfare.
Once individuals with pain are recognized, one can subsequently examine, diagnose, and treat these animals.
In March of 2015, while holding seminars on recognition and assessment of pain in horses, we talked to 400 horse people on all levels - owners, breeders, trainers, stable personnel, veterinarians, and the racehorse and pharmaceutical industries in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. During these seminars, we used an anonymous polling system to inquire about their interest in pain. More than 65 % of the participants felt that they needed tools to recognize and evaluate equine pain: not new drugs or pain medication methods.
For the last 10 years, our group has worked to develop and evaluate systematic methods to identify varying levels of pain in horses and cattle. These systems consist of different behavioral parameters. One of the most promising and sensitive indicators for pain in horses and cattle are subtle changes in facial expressions, the so-called “pain face.” The pain face is part of our composite Equine Pain Scale (EPS) system that our team has developed.