Identification of Body Behaviors and Facial Expressions Associated with Induced Orthopedic Pain in Four Equine Pain Scales

Animals (Basel). 2020 Nov 19;10(11):2155. doi: 10.3390/ani10112155.


Equine orthopedic pain scales are targeted towards horses with moderate to severe orthopedic pain. Improved assessment of pain behavior and pain-related facial expressions at rest may refine orthopedic pain detection for mild lameness grades. Therefore, this study explored pain-related behaviors and facial expressions and sought to identify frequently occurring combinations. Orthopedic pain was induced by intra-articular LPS in eight horses, and objective movement asymmetry analyses were performed before and after induction together with pain assessments at rest. Three observers independently assessed horses in their box stalls, using four equine pain scales simultaneously. Increase in movement asymmetry after induction was used as a proxy for pain. Behaviors and facial expressions commonly co-occurred and were strongly associated with movement asymmetry. Posture-related scale items were the strongest predictors of movement asymmetry. Display of facial expressions at rest varied between horses but, when present, were strongly associated with movement asymmetry. Reliability of facial expression items was lower than reliability of behavioral items. These findings suggest that five body behaviors (posture, head position, location in the box stall, focus, and interactive behavior) should be included in a scale for live assessment of mild orthopedic pain. We also recommend inclusion of facial expressions in pain assessment.

Keywords: horses; lameness; movement asymmetry; movement symmetry; pain indicator; pain predictor; reliability.