The effect of postsurgical pain on attentional processing in horses

Louise Dodds, Laura Knight, Kate Allen, Jo Murrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
387 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: Investigate the effect of post-surgical pain on the performance of horses in a novel object and auditory startle task.

Study design: Prospective clinical study

Animals: 20 horses undergoing different types of surgery and 16 control horses that did not undergo surgery were studied.

Methods: The interaction of 36 horses with novel objects and a response to an auditory stimulus was measured at two time points; the day before surgery (T1) and the day after surgery (T2) for surgical horses (G1), and at a similar time interval for control horses (G2). Pain and sedation were measured using Simple Descriptive Scales (SDSs) at the time the tests were carried out. Total time or score attributed to each of the behavioural categories was compared between groups (G1 and G2) for each test and between tests (T1 and T2) for each group.

Results: The median (range) time spent interacting with novel objects was significantly reduced in G1 from 57.5 (367) seconds in T1 to 12.4 (495) seconds in T2. In G2 the change in interaction time between T1 and T2 was not statistically significant. Median (range) Total Auditory Score was 7 (9) and 10 (11) in G1 and G2 respectively at T1, decreasing to 6 (10) in G1 after surgery and at 9.5 (11) in G2. Similarly, there was a significant decrease in Total Auditory Score within G1 between T1 and T2 (p=0.003). There was a significant difference in Total Auditory Score between G1 and G2 at T2 (p=0.0169), with the score being lower in G1 than G2.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: Post-surgical pain negatively impacts attention towards novel objects and causes a decreased responsiveness to an auditory startle test. Attention demanding tasks in horses and may be useful as a biomarker of pain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)933-942
Number of pages10
JournalVeterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia
Issue number4
Early online date5 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • attention
  • horse
  • novel object
  • pain
  • surgery


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