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In practice in brief
Assessing pain in horses
  1. Karina Bech Gleerup
  1. Roskilde, Denmark
  1. E-mail for correspondence: bechgleerup{at}

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Pain management is important for optimal convalescence and is imperative for good horse welfare. Recent research has found that behavioural traits are the most informative clinical signs when assessing pain in horses. This makes pain evaluation dependent on the observational skills of the veterinarian and the horse owner.

Acute pain is a protective mechanism

The normal response to tissue damage is for a horse to:

  • Escape the danger causing the pain, resulting in a withdrawal reflex, and, frequently, a flight attempt;

  • Protect the injured body part;

  • Rest, for recovery and regeneration.

Furthermore, the painful stimulus impacts the memory to ensure that the individual avoids a similar injury in the future. Therefore, pain is essential for maintaining bodily integrity; it is a well-developed mechanism for surviving acute injury.1

This type of pain response is simple and easy to understand, but pain comes in different forms and durations. Overall, a simple way to describe pain is to divide it into the following three types.

Somatic pain

Somatic pain arises from somatic structures such as the skin, periosteum, ligaments and synovium. Orofacial structures are also somatic but have a different pain pathway.

Visceral pain

Visceral pain originates from …

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