An equine pain face

Vet Anaesth Analg. 2015 Jan;42(1):103-14. doi: 10.1111/vaa.12212. Epub 2014 Jul 31.


Objective: The objective of this study was to investigate the existence of an equine pain face and to describe this in detail.

Study design: Semi-randomized, controlled, crossover trial.

Animals: Six adult horses.

Methods: Pain was induced with two noxious stimuli, a tourniquet on the antebrachium and topical application of capsaicin. All horses participated in two control trials and received both noxious stimuli twice, once with and once without an observer present. During all sessions their pain state was scored. The horses were filmed and the close-up video recordings of the faces were analysed for alterations in behaviour and facial expressions. Still images from the trials were evaluated for the presence of each of the specific pain face features identified from the video analysis.

Results: Both noxious challenges were effective in producing a pain response resulting in significantly increased pain scores. Alterations in facial expressions were observed in all horses during all noxious stimulations. The number of pain face features present on the still images from the noxious challenges were significantly higher than for the control trial (p = 0.0001). Facial expressions representative for control and pain trials were condensed into explanatory illustrations. During pain sessions with an observer present, the horses increased their contact-seeking behavior.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: An equine pain face comprising 'low' and/or 'asymmetrical' ears, an angled appearance of the eyes, a withdrawn and/or tense stare, mediolaterally dilated nostrils and tension of the lips, chin and certain facial muscles can be recognized in horses during induced acute pain. This description of an equine pain face may be useful for improving tools for pain recognition in horses with mild to moderate pain.

Keywords: experimental study; horses; pain behavior; pain evaluation; pain face.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Facial Expression*
  • Horse Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Horses
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / veterinary*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Measurement / veterinary*