In-Person Caretaker Visits Disrupt Ongoing Discomfort Behavior in Hospitalized Equine Orthopedic Surgical Patients
Department of Clinical Studies, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, New Bolton Center, 382 W Street Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348, USA
Havemeyer Equine Behavior Lab and Clinic, Department of Clinical Studies, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, New Bolton Center, 382 W Street Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348, USA
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Received: 22 December 2019 / Revised: 16 January 2020 / Accepted: 24 January 2020 / Published: 27 January 2020
In 24-h video-recorded samples of 20 hospitalized equine orthopedic surgery patients, ongoing discomfort behavior conspicuously diminished or stopped altogether, when a caretaker approached or interacted with the horse, and then resumed after the caretaker’s departure. For all 20 patients, the degree of reduction was potentially important to clinical management decisions. Current state-of-the-art equine clinical composite pain scoring rubrics rely on observations of discomfort behavior in combination with physiologic measures, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, and gut motility. All of these are typically assessed concurrently during a visit by a caretaker. This raises concern that discomfort in equine patients is routinely underestimated in ways that might compromise patient welfare. While this is especially of concern for veterinary hospitals, this natural characteristic of horses to show little indication of discomfort or disability in the presence of predators is also likely to delay recognition of disease in horses in general.