Development and initial validation of a sensory threshold examination protocol (STEP) for phenotyping canine pain syndromes

Vet Anaesth Analg. 2017 May;44(3):600-614. doi: 10.1016/j.vaa.2016.09.004. Epub 2017 Feb 24.


Objective: To study the feasibility and test-retest repeatability of a sensory threshold examination protocol (STEP) and report the quantitative sensory threshold distributions in healthy dogs.

Study design: Prospective, observational, cohort study.

Animals: Twenty-five healthy client-owned dogs.

Methods: Tactile sensitivity test (TST) (von Frey filaments), mechanical thresholds (MT with 2, 4 and 8 mm probes), heat thresholds (HT) and responsiveness to cold stimulus (CT at 0 °C) were quantitatively assessed for five body areas (BAs; tibias, humeri, neck, thoracolumbar region and abdomen) in a randomized order on three different occasions. Linear mixed model and generalized linear mixed models were used to evaluate the effects of body weight category, age, sex, BA, occasion, feasibility score and investigator experience. Test-retest repeatability was evaluated with the intra-class correlation coefficient.

Results: The STEP lasted 90 minutes without side effects. The BA affected most tests (p ≤ 0.001). Higher thresholds and longer cold latencies were scored in the neck (p ≤ 0.024) compared to other BAs. Weight category affected all thresholds (p ≤ 0.037). Small dogs had lower MT (∼1.4 N mean difference) and HT (1.1 °C mean difference) than other dogs (p ≤ 0.029). Young dogs had higher HT than adults (2.2 °C mean difference) (p = 0.035). Gender also affected TST, MT and HT (p < 0.05) (females versus males: TST odds ratio = 0.5, MT = 1.3 N mean difference, HT = 2.2 °C mean difference). Repeatability was substantial to moderate for all tests, but poor for TST. There was no difference in thresholds between occasions, except for CT. Test-retest repeatability was slightly better with the 2 mm MT probe compared to other diameters and improved with operator experience.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: The STEP was feasible, was well tolerated and showed substantial test-retest repeatability in healthy dogs. Further validation is needed in dogs suffering pain.

Keywords: dog; mechanical; nociception; quantitative sensory testing; thermal.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Dog Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Dog Diseases / physiopathology
  • Dogs
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / veterinary*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Prospective Studies
  • Random Allocation
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Syndrome