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Behavioural assessment of dental pain in captive Malayan sun bears ( Helarctos malayanus)

By M. Fleming, C. C. Burn

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Captive bears are prone to developing dental pathology for reasons including longevity in captivity, inappropriate diet, trauma, and stereotypical bar biting. If not detected, this can cause pain and suffering, with negative welfare consequences. As animals cannot verbally express feelings, objective methods are required to detect pain. Some methods of pain assessment can be invasive and impractical but behavioural observations offer a non-invasive alternative. Behavioural assessment for the detection of pain has been described in some domestic species but little published research has applied this to wild animal species. Eight Malayan sun bears ( Helarctos malayanus) required dental extractions under anaesthesia. Their behaviour was observed, alongside a control cohort with no visible disease, pre-operatively and at one, two and four weeks post-operatively, when it was assumed the pain had resolved from the original pathology and surgery performed. Behavioural indices measured included general activity, social behaviours, stereotypies, eating-related behaviours and oro-facial behaviours hypothesised to be affected by dental pain. Bears that had received treatment took significantly longer to eat hard sugarcane pre-operatively compared to four weeks post-operatively, and took longer to eat soft porridge one week post-operatively compared to four weeks post-operatively. Untreated bears tended to be more active outdoors one week post-operatively compared to the treatment cohort. Results suggest that using hard foods and assessing the duration of eating behaviours could be useful to indicate dental pain in sun bears. General behavioural assessment of dental pain in sun bears is unlikely to be effective as a single diagnostic tool, but may be combined with other methods of assessment, and further research into this area is warranted.

Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 23
Issue 2
Pages 131-140
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London NW1 4RY,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Anesthesia
  2. Angiosperms
  3. Animals
  4. Animal welfare
  5. APEC countries
  6. ASEAN Countries
  7. Asia
  8. Bears
  9. Carnivores
  10. Commonwealth of Nations
  11. Detection
  12. Developing countries
  13. Diagnosis
  14. Flowers
  15. Foods
  16. Grasses
  17. Longevity
  18. Malaysia
  19. Mammals
  20. Pain
  21. pathology
  22. peer-reviewed
  23. Plants
  24. sugar
  25. surgery
  26. Techniques
  27. Threshold Countries
  28. trauma
  29. vertebrates
  30. Zoo and captive wild animals
  1. peer-reviewed