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Behavioural responses of piglets to castration: the effect of piglet age

By A. A. Taylor, D. M. Weary, M. Lessard, L. Braithwaite

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It has long been assumed that neonatal animals are less sensitive than older animals to pain, and this reasoning has been used to recommend that routine surgical procedures be performed at an early age. In this study we tested if vocal and other behavioural responses to castration increase with piglet age. Piglets (n=84) from 14 litters were assigned to one of 6 treatment groups: castration or sham castration at 3, 10 or 17 days of age. During the procedure castrated piglets produced high-frequency calls (>1000 Hz) at more than 3 times the rate of piglets in the sham-castrate group. The rate of low-frequency (<1000 Hz) calls was also higher for piglets in the castrate group. The rate of high-frequency calling was lower for the youngest pigs but there was no relationship between age and the effect of treatment for any of the vocal responses measured (i.e. no age by treatment interaction). During the first 2 h after castration, castrated piglets spent more time sitting or standing and less time lying. During the subsequent 22 h, castrated piglets spent marginally more time at the udder and less time lying down. Older piglets missed more nursings. However, the effect of castration did not vary with the age of the piglet for any measure. We conclude that while the factors affecting both the shams and the castrates (e.g. distress due to restraint) may vary with age, the pain of castration is not affected by age within the range of ages that we tested.

Date 2001
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 73
Issue 1
Pages 35-43
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/S0168-1591(01)00123-X
Language English
Author Address Centre for Food Animal Research, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Canada.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Age
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Castration
  5. Mammals
  6. Pain
  7. peer-reviewed
  8. Pigs
  9. responses
  10. Swine
  11. vocalizations
  1. peer-reviewed