Ask the Vet – How to know if your horse is in pain

Ask the Vet – How to know if your horse is in pain


DAN: “How do you know if a horse
is in pain or any discomfort?” DR LYDIA GRAY: This is
related to the other one. I thought it was interesting
that both questions got voted high up. It must be a point of
concern with people. And again, this was
not an area that I had done a lot of previous work in. So I did quite a
bit of research when I saw this floating up there. But again, I appreciate that
people are making me do this because I’m learning
a ton, and so now I get to share it with people. I think I’ve said it
like 40 times today. Know normal. If you know what your
horse acts and eats and interacts like normally,
when he is different, then you know something’s up. And it could be
pain or discomfort. That’s the first sign. They’re not acting right. I read something online
by Dr. Nancy Diehl, who’s a practitioner, but
I thought really, really wise, and a horse owner. And she said “create a catalog
of your horses’ normal set of behaviors” inside the stall,
outside of the stall, when you’re working him. There’s actually a
name for such a thing. It’s called an ethogram. It’s a sign– DAN: What is that? DR LYDIA GRAY: Well,
it’s a chart or table of all the different
kinds of behavior, actions, activity observed in
a particular animal species. There’s ethograms by species. I found the US
Department of Interior has an ethogram of free
ranging feral horses. That is amazing. DAN: Really? That must be really fascinating. DR LYDIA GRAY: It is. I stayed up way too
late last night. It talks about locomotion,
how they move, and why. It talks about feeding behavior,
play, investigative behavior, maintenance behavior, grooming. DAN: Wow, detailed. DR LYDIA GRAY: It
just puts every thing that horses do in these
different categories, and then you look, and you
say, well, these all things are normal. So if I see anything
else, cribbing is not in the ethogram. That’s an abnormal behavior,
and action, or activity. DAN: So there might be something
going on with the horse. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. You’re looking for those. Make an ethogram for your horse. DAN: I love that. DR LYDIA GRAY: I
know, isn’t that fun? So now, after that, like
a horse-wide ethogram, they’ve moved onto
facial ethograms. There’s science going on
out there we have no idea. It’s really interesting. DAN: This is so fascinating. DR LYDIA GRAY: I know. DAN: So what’s the facial one? DR LYDIA GRAY: So they’ve named
it the horse grimace scale. DAN: The horse grimace scale? DR LYDIA GRAY: Do you
know what I mean, grimace? DAN: Yeah, like facial– yeah. DR LYDIA GRAY: So
there’s a scale. I think maybe we’ll
show what I got. I found one from Colorado State
University, the vet school out there, and it has
pictures of horses, and the face they make
when they are in pain. And this has been validated,
and studied, and confirmed. DAN: Is there one
specific type of face a horse makes when in pain? Or is there a range of? DR LYDIA GRAY: There’s
muscle tension, mouth open, the eyes do something,
and it’s on a scale. So when there’s a little
pain, they have a little bit. When there’s more
pain, there’s more. DAN: Wow. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. DAN: That’s something that
will be dangerous for me because I’m already
someone prone to do they look a little off today or not? And I will over
thing it to a degree. So now I’m going to
look at his eyes. DR LYDIA GRAY: It’s like
a body condition score. DAN: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY:
Now, one step more. You better put
your seat belt on. DAN: I’m ready. Bring it on. DR LYDIA GRAY: So the next
step is Dr. Sue Dyson, who’s one of my favorite people. She’s an investigator– a
veterinarian from the UK. Her and her team developed a
facial ethogram specifically to riding. DAN: To riding? DR LYDIA GRAY: Dun, dun, dun. DAN: So while you’re
on, there’s the faces your horse will make to see
whether they’re in pain or not? DR LYDIA GRAY: That’s it. DAN: That is so cool. DR LYDIA GRAY: And so she has
developed this instrument that is useful in determining if a
horse is lame or sound based on the facial expressions
it makes while being worked. DAN: And sometimes– we were
talking about this– the specifically also
mentioned pain. So it’s not even
just necessarily lameness or something
of that nature. So the horse could be
having back pain, and still kind of look– DR LYDIA GRAY: It doesn’t
localize the pain, but it just says the horse
is experiencing discomfort from somewhere. Now your job, the
vet’s job, is to– DAN: To figure that out. So it might not be a limping
step while someone’s riding. DR LYDIA GRAY: Back
pain is a great example because back pain is actually
something else that she studies. She’s one of the world’s– DAN: Glad I tied
that in for you. DR LYDIA GRAY: I know. She’s one of the world’s
premier saddle fitters. DAN: Oh. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. DAN: Perfect. DR LYDIA GRAY: And how
the fit of the saddle has to do with the way the horse
goes, and its comfort or not. The facial markers showing the
greatest significant difference between lame and sound
horses were ears back, tipping the head, the eyes
partially or fully closed, tension around the
eye, squinting, intense stare, an open
mouth with exposed teeth, and then severely above the bit. So she had a variety of
people assess horses– videos, and live
horses, and pictures even of different expressions,
and they were really on target. And then to show how
on target they were, she took the same horses
that were lame, did a nerve block to take away
the lameness, and then the facial expression went
away, and the reviewers– the test reviewers–
noticed it, and then they were– they had checked
him on this box before, and then after the nerve block,
they said no, they’re fine now. DAN: This is so fascinating. This is probably one of the most
interesting studies I’ve heard. DR LYDIA GRAY: Isn’t it? DAN: I am very curious to see
how your own ethograms, though. I’m sure a lot of people are
going to try them at home. DR LYDIA GRAY: Do, yeah. DAN: Definitely keep us
posted with how that goes, and if you guys have any tips on
how to keep track of all that.

5 thoughts on “Ask the Vet – How to know if your horse is in pain

  1. I really recommend the book language signs and calming signals of horses to understand body language and what your horse is saying in general. taught me so much.

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