Objective assessment of acute pain in foals using a facial expression-based pain scale
Pain assessment is very important for monitoring welfare and quality of life in horses. To date, no studies have described pain scales for objective assessment of pain in foals. Studies in other species have shown that facial expression can be used in neonatal animals for objective assessment of acute pain. The aim of the current study was to adapt a facial expression-based pain scale for assessment of acute pain in mature horses for valid pain assessment in foals. The scale was applied to fifty-nine foals (20 patients and 39 healthy controls); animals were assessed from video recordings (30-60 s) by 3 observers, who were blinded for the condition of the animals. Patients were diagnosed with acute health problems by means of clinical examination and additional diagnostic procedures. EQUUS-FAP FOAL (Equine Utrecht University Scale for Facial Assessment of Pain in Foals) showed good inter- and intra-observer reliability (Cronbach's alpha = 0.95 and 0.98, <i>p</i> < 0.001). Patients had significantly higher pain scores compared to controls (<i>p</i> < 0.001) and the pain scores decreased after treatment with NSAIDs (meloxicam or flunixin meglumine IV) (<i>p</i> < 0.05). Our results indicate that a facial expression-based pain scale could be useful for the assessment of acute pain in foals. Further studies are needed to validate this pain scale.