Composite scale developed to assess pain in foals

Share
"The Foal Composite Pain Scale seems clinically applicable to quantify pain and improve the judgment of the quality of life in foals."
File image.

A new composite pain scale for foals has proven to be a valid tool to assess discomfort and quality of life in young horses, according to researchers.

Aliai Lanci and her fellow researchers, writing in the journal Animals, described the development of the scale and the assessment of its effectiveness in a pilot study.

The study team said recognition of pain is pivotal in managing the wellbeing of horses, and pain scales are important for this purpose.

In recent years, various types of pain scales have been developed for adult horses, but none for specific use with foals.

“Pain scales developed for adult horses are not suitable for foals,” they said, citing physiological and behavioural differences.

The researchers from Italy and The Netherlands set out to develop the Foal Composite Pain Scale (FCPS), based on an extensive examination of published pain-related research involving horses and the authors’ expertise.

The scale involves an assessment of 11 facial expressions, four behavioural items, and five physical items.

The facial elements include assessments of head movement, the eyelids, the nostrils, mouth and ears, as well as the presence or absence of yawning, licking or chewing, teeth grinding, and moaning.

The behavioural items include any evidence of abdominal pain, the nature of the foal’s posture, its appetite, and any evidence of lameness.

The physical items comprised the rectal temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, the foal’s reaction to palpating any painful area, and intestinal motility (action).

Each area was scored on either a three-point scale (0,1,2) or, for features assessed as being either present or absent, a binary scale (0,2).

This gave a score for each foal out of 40.

The pain scale was then assessed in a pilot trial involving 50 foals, 35 of whom were pain-free. The other 15 were experiencing a range of pain-related conditions.

The pain-free foals were video-recorded once when enrolled, while the pain group were recorded upon inclusion, again after receiving painkillers, and a third time once they recovered.

The videos were scored twice on the scale by five trained observers who were unaware of the status of each foal.

The scale was able to predict the presence of pain with high sensitivity and specificity, the study team reported.

The consistency of the pain scale was found to be excellent, with good agreement between the observers.

One of the foals used in the study wearing the collar applied to hide the possible presence of an intravenous catheter on the neck during the video recording.
One of the foals used in the study wearing the collar applied to hide the possible presence of an intravenous catheter on the neck during the video recording. Image: Lanci, Benedetti et al.

The pain-free foals typically scored 1 or 2 out of 40, whereas the foals in pain consistently scored around 16 (ranging from 13 to 18). Once given painkillers, they typically scored around 11 (ranging from 6 to 13), and scores dropped to around 3 once they recovered.

The minimum score obtained in the study was 0 in a pain-free foal, while the highest was 24 in a foal with intestinal problems.

“Overall,” they said, “the Foal Composite Pain Scale seems clinically applicable to quantify pain and improve the judgment of the quality of life in foals.”

However, they identified the need for some modifications based on the preliminary findings of their pilot study.

“Consequently, further studies on a larger sample size are needed to test the feasibility and validity of the refined FCPS,” they said.

The study team comprised Lanci, Beatrice Benedetti, Francesca Freccero, Carolina Castagnetti, Jole Mariella and Barbara Padalino, all with the University of Bologna in Italy; and Johannes van Loon, with Utrecht University and the Sporthorse Medical Diagnostic Centre, both in The Netherlands.

Lanci, A.; Benedetti, B.; Freccero, F.; Castagnetti, C.; Mariella, J.; van Loon, J.P.A.M.; Padalino, B. Development of a Composite Pain Scale in Foals: A Pilot Study. Animals 2022, 12, 439. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12040439

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

Horsetalk.co.nz

Latest research and information from the horse world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.