Work Package 2: Detail



Impact of diseases and pain on animal welfare

WP 2 will use a combination of surveys and experimental data collection to assess relationships between animal welfare and some commonly occurring painful conditions with a special focus on behavioural and physiological indicators of pain and discomfort. In addition to the welfare measures developed by WP 1 for routine on-farm use, WP 2 will use an experimental approach also investigating more in-depth biomarkers of pain that might not be suitable for routine welfare assessment. The species included in the experimental studies of this WP are goats, sheep and horses. Research teams from Edinburgh (UK), Cambridge (UK), Lisbon (Portugal) and Brandenburg (Germany) will cover the following subtasks:

  • Survey based study assessing attitudes towards pain and disease in sheep, goats, turkeys, horses and donkeys to understand the current level of pain alleviation in different countries, and exploring why effective pain mitigation may not be available in all species.
  • Welfare consequences of painful diseases (foot-rot, mastitis, pregnancy toxaemia) in sheep.
  • Genetic determination of foot-rot in sheep.
  • Welfare consequences of painful diseases (lameness, pregnancy toxaemia, mastitis) in goats.
  • Welfare consequences of painful diseases (acute and chronic laminitis) in horses.
  • Impact of painful routine on-farm management procedures on the welfare of goats (disbudding of kids) and horses (castration of stallions).

In all experimental studies, a multidisciplinary approach will be used combining clinical assessment of disease, behaviour, and physiological responses to determine the most appropriate pain indicators for the range of conditions and situations studied. The outcomes of these studies will contribute to the development and refinement of welfare assessment protocols for these species developed in WP1.

Detailed information

WP 2.1 Assessing attitudes and knowledge towards pain and diseases

Online surveys will be carried out by a research team based at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh (UK) among European veterinarians, animal science experts and producers using web based instruments. In the survey instrument 15-20 diseases/conditions will be presented to veterinarians affiliated to the European Veterinary Association, animal science experts, producers and relevant stakeholders, with pictures or videos, to collected information, using visual analogue scale (VAS) to assess the perceived level of pain associated with the conditions. The pain assessment score will be used for training purposes, will cover horses, donkeys, sheep, goats and turkeys, and will be incorporated into the WP4 (global hub for animal welfare).

WP 2.2 Welfare consequences of painful diseases in sheep

A research group based at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School (UK) will be examining the relationship between sheep diseases and animal welfare, focusing on behavioural and physiological indicators of pain and discomfort. The diseases involved are: foot-rot, mastitis and pregnancy toxaemia. The attitudes of stakeholders towards pain and diseases in sheep will be evaluated. The project will promote a better understanding of the role of diseases in compromising animal welfare.

Clinically sound and foot-rot diagnosed sheep will be studied. Animals will be assessed clinically and for behaviour, with blood samples taken for assay of physiological markers of pain. The lame animals will then be treated by foot trimming, topical antibiotic and/or foot bathing, half of the lame animals will receive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment.

Sheep with mastitis will be studied. The severity of mastitis will be graded clinically, and the causative agent established by bacterial culture. Treatment with systemic antibiotic and NSAID will be used in all clinical cases. Survival rates of dams and offspring, and effect on body condition will be recorded.

Sheep with pregnancy toxaemia will be studied. Treatment with intravenous glucose and oral gluconeogenic agents will be used in clinical cases. Survival rates of dams and offspring, and effect on body condition will be recorded.

In all three diseases whereas possible the animals will be reassessed clinically, behaviourally and blood sampled again at 3 months and at 6 months following the initial intervention. The organization of the neuroendocrine system in animals from any of the studies, which die or are euthanised will be assessed for biomarkers of pain.

WP 2.3 Genetic determination of the susceptibility to foot-rot in sheep

The research group based at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh (UK) will address the question if animal welfare could be improved by eradication of foot-rot, a common and painful condition in sheep, on the basis of genetic selection. A case-control design with foot-rot as a binomial trait in sheep will be used. Animals that have foot-rot within a given herd will be matched with animals within the same herd and age that do not have foot-rot. A whole genome association study will be conducted to identify gene loci associated with susceptibility to foot-rot.

WP 2.4 Welfare consequences of painful diseases in goats

A research group based at the University of Lisbon (Portugal) will study pain associated to some common diseases such as lameness, mastitis and pregnancy toxemia in goats. Pain is an acknowledged consequence of some of these conditions but is usually disregarded when they are treated, so pragmatic analgesic protocols for pain mitigation will be assessed.

Lameness in dairy goats is generally caused by arthritis and injuries, but the pain and discomfort caused by overgrown and deformed claws is not known. In the lameness study, it is the objective to establish an easy and applicable scoring chart, essentially using walking and gait changes. Feet inflammation will be assessed in animals with overgrown claws by using a thermograph and the correlation of the results with behavior signs and production data will be investigated. Finally different pain management protocols, including claw trimming, will be compared.

Although mastitis is not a common disease in goats, it is sometimes a welfare problem because it may cause pain, toxemia and death. Traditionally mastitis is treated with antimicrobials but pain has never been considered as an important feature. The study will focus on the question if pain is really an issue and if recovery is quicker and better when analgesics are given.

Pregnancy toxaemia is a disease characteristic of small ruminants that severely affects the welfare of both dam and fetuses. It is relatively common in pregnant goats feeding in very poor pastures or very fat pregnant dairy goats kept in intensive systems. This is a systemic condition but swelling of the distal parts of all limbs is a common feature, causing lameness and pain. There are already studies that indicate flunixin-meglumin as an advantage for the treatment of this disease but it is not known if this is due to its analgesic effect or other. Ways to evaluate the welfare of affected animals, including the role of pain and fetuses survival, will be studied by assessing behaviour and blood parameters in affected animals treated or not with analgesics.

WP 2.5 Welfare consequences of painful diseases in horses

A research team based at Havelland Equine Hospital in Brandenburg (Germany) will be examining the impact of laminitis, a common and painful orthopedic disease in horses, on animal welfare.

The aim of a preliminary study with horses suffering from acute laminitis is to investigate the correlations between the pain assessment protocol developed in WP1, the standard clinical examination protocol and selected physiological parameters such as heart rate variability, plasma and fecal biomarkers of pain. This study will be conducted with horses suffering from acute bouts of laminitis, which have not previously been treated. The horses will be studied immediately before onset of treatment and at day two and seven after the onset of a standardized anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving therapy.

The aim of the main part of this study is to address the hypothesis that even in chronic and less obvious cases of laminitis an appropriate treatment may substantially improve the animal’s state of well being. Only parameters that proofed to detect differences in pain levels during the preliminary study, will be used in horses suffering from less severe, chronic laminitis . Animals will be subjected to routine orthopedic hoof shoeing and will be examined and blood sampled before treatment (basal) as well as at day five and day twenty-five post treatment.

WP 2.6 Welfare consequences of routine but painful on-farm procedures: disbudding of goat kids and castration of horse stallions

For the goat disbudding study the Portuguese research team based at the University of Lisbon will use 10 to 15 day old kids disbudded with thermocautery to compare different analgesic protocols with local anesthesia, non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs and sedatives. Each study, using animals divided in control and treated groups, will look at intensity and amplitude of the kids vocalization, pain related behaviours such as head shaking and limb movements and plasma biomarkers of pain.

The team based at Havelland Equine Hospital in Germany will address the question whether the administration of pain relieving drugs after castration of stallions has a positive effect on the animals’ state of well-being. Equine stallions referred to the clinic for surgical castration will be randomly divided into two groups: one group will undergo the surgical procedure under general anesthesia without additional pain-relieving therapy, the other group will be treated with peri- and post-operative administration of analgesic drugs. All horses will be studied before the surgical intervention (basal) and three subsequent days following castration using the pain assessment protocol developed and validated by WP1 as well as some more in-depth physiological parameters such as heart rate variability, blood and fecal biomarkers of pain.

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