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Lameness is common in commercially reared broiler chickens but relationships between lameness and pain (and thus bird welfare) have proved complex, partly because lameness is often partially confounded with factors such as bodyweight, sex and pathology. Thermal nociceptive threshold (TNT) testing explores the neural processing of noxious stimuli, and so can contribute to our understanding of pain. Using an acute model of experimentally induced articular pain, we recently demonstrated that TNT was reduced in lame broiler chickens, and was subsequently attenuated by administration of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). This study extended these findings to a large sample of commercial broilers. It examined factors affecting thermal threshold (Part 1) and the effect of an NSAID drug (meloxicam, 5 mg/kg) and of an opioid (butorphanol; 4 mg/kg) (Part 2). Spontaneously lame and matched non-lame birds (n = 167) from commercial farms were exposed to ramped thermal stimulations via a probe attached to the lateral aspect of the tarsometatarsus. Baseline skin temperature and temperature at which a behavioural avoidance response occurred (threshold) were recorded. In Part 1 bird characteristics influencing threshold were modelled; In Part 2 the effect of subcutaneous administration of meloxicam or butorphanol was investigated. Unexpectedly, after accounting for other influences, lameness increased threshold significantly (Part 1). In Part 2, meloxicam affected threshold differentially: it increased further in lame birds and decreased in non-lame birds. No effect of butorphanol was detected. Baseline skin temperature was also consistently a significant predictor of threshold. Overall, lameness significantly influenced threshold after other bird characteristics were taken into account. This, and a differential effect of meloxicam on lame birds, suggests that nociceptive processing may be altered in lame birds, though mechanisms for this require further investigation.
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