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How can Pain be Assessed? > Systematic Assessment

Details, history & exam Practical Assessment Validation

Practical Assessment of Animal Pain

For practical assessment of pain under 'field' conditions; individuals or groups of animals may be assessed using the following points:

  • Look at the interaction of the animals, and their individual demeanour (Wemelsfelder et al 2000).

  • Carry out a subjective or objective assessment of any abnormal activities or postures, including the position of limbs, head, neck, ears and tail

  • Identify and assess any changes in gait (lameness), together with the number of animals affected.

  •  Approach the flock / herd or an individual animal to observe the response to disturbance (evoked behaviour). Look for decreased flight distances and the speed of response to the threat - animals showing reduced responses may be in pain.

  • Look for signs of poor body, skin and coat condition, presence of external parasites, wounds, or other signs of disease.

  •  Look for physiological signs such as altered respiratory effort (including increased rate, depth, gasping, open-mouthed breathing, panting), sweating, trembling, increased muscle tone, dilated pupils, wide-open eyes, depression and aggression towards observer, particularly in response to touch.

  • Note any physiological, environmental or husbandry conditions  that could also account for any of the observed signs e.g. pregnancy, heavy rain.

  • Seek the owner's / carer's assessment of the animal and note his/her competence and co-operation.

  • With their co-operation, a history of any on-going clinical condition should be taken, including any treatment in progress. 


 If you, as an owner or carer of an individual or group of animals, consider it / them to be in pain, call your veterinary surgeon for advice / and or a visit to determine the cause and treatment of the problem.


The validity, reliability and sensitivity of the method needs to be sufficient to achieve the objectives of the assessment; identification of two grades of pain could be sufficient i.e. to treat or not to treat the animal(s).

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                                            Revised: 20-10-08