Avian reflex and electroencephalogram responses in different states of consciousness

DA Sandercock, A Auckburally, D Flaherty, V Sandilands, DEF McKeegan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Defining states of clinical consciousness in animals is important in veterinary anaesthesia and in studies of euthanasia and welfare assessment at slaughter. The aim of this study was to validate readily observable reflex responses in relation to different conscious states, as confirmed by EEG analysis, in two species of birds under laboratory conditions (35-week-old layer hens (n=12) and 11-week-old turkeys (n= 10)). Weevaluated clinical reflexes and characterised electroencephalograph (EEG) activity (as a measure of brain function) using spectral analyses in four different clinical states of consciousness: conscious (fully awake), semi-conscious (sedated), unconscious-optimal (general anaesthesia), unconscious-sub optimal (deep hypnotic state), as well as assessment immediately following euthanasia. Jaw or neck muscle tone was the most reliable reflex measure distinguishing between conscious and unconscious states. Pupillary reflexwas consistently observed until respiratory arrest. Nictitating membrane reflex persisted for a short time (b1 min) after respiratory arrest and brain death (isoelectric EEG). The results confirm that the nictitating membrane reflex is a conservative measure of death in poultry. Using spectral analyses of the EEG waveforms it was possible to readily distinguish between the different states of clinical consciousness. In all cases,when birds progressed froma conscious to unconscious state; total spectral power (PTOT) significantly increased, whereas median (F50) and spectral edge (F95) frequencies significantly decreased. This study demonstrates that EEG analysis can differentiate between clinical states (and loss of brain function at death) in birds and provides a unique integration of reflex responses and EEG activity. © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252 - 259
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Publication statusFirst published - 2014

Bibliographical note



  • Anaesthesia
  • Avian
  • Consciousness
  • Cranial reflexes
  • EEG
  • FFT power analysis


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