The identification of potential behavioural indicators of pain in periparturient sows

SH Ison, S Jarvis, KMD Rutherford

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20 Citations (Scopus)
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Periparturient pain is a welfare concern and could contribute to piglet losses. This has led to studies investigating post-farrowing analgesia. A clear reduction in pain has not been demonstrated, partly due to a lack of pain indicators. This study quantified behaviours as potential pain indicators (PPIn) in sows: i) before, during and after farrowing, and ii) 2 min before and after piglet births. Twenty-five sows were observed during and after, and ten pre-farrowing. Behaviour recorded included: 1) back leg forward (back leg pulled forward and/or in); 2) tremble (movement as if shivering); 3) back arch (leg(s) stretch forming an arched back); 4) paw (leg scraped in pawing motion); and 5) tail flick (tail moved rapidly up and down). Behaviours were analysed using generalized linear models and Spearman's rank correlations. All PPIn were rare or absent pre-farrowing, highest during farrowing, and back leg forward, tremble and back arch were greater in the early post-farrowing period. Several significant positive correlations between PPIn during and post-farrowing were found. Back arch, tail flick and paw were higher before than after a piglet birth, and were more frequent earlier in the birth order. Back leg forward and tremble did not differ before and after births, and tremble increased with birth order. These behaviours, which were absent or rare pre-farrowing, present during farrowing and were lower afterwards, and showed consistent individual variation, may be quantitatively associated with pain. Spontaneous behaviours could be used to test the efficacy of analgesics or identify sows that may benefit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114 - 120
Number of pages7
JournalResearch in Veterinary Science
Early online date6 Oct 2016
Publication statusFirst published - 6 Oct 2016

Bibliographical note



  • Behaviour
  • Farrowing
  • Pain assessment
  • Sow
  • Welfare


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