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Social context and other factors influence the behavioural expression of pain by lambs

By M. J. Guesgen, N. J. Beausoleil, E. O. Minot, M. Stewart, K. J. Stafford

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There is evidence that the presence of a conspecific can alter the experience of pain in humans and other animals. This 'social buffering' may be mediated by factors such as relatedness and familiarity. This study investigates whether and how the social context affects the behavioural response of lambs to painful tail-docking. Specifically, we investigated whether the presence of a lamb that is familiar, related or neither, and previous experience of the test environment affected pain expression. Forty-four lambs were reared to allow testing in one of three social conditions: Familiar Related (FR, twins), Familiar Unrelated (FU) or Unfamiliar Unrelated (UU). Each lamb was exposed to the test environment twice over two rounds, once as the actor (i.e. tail-docked) and once as the observer (not tail-docked). The pain-related behaviour of the actor lamb, as well as where it was looking was recorded before and after tail-docking. As expected, all docked lambs showed an increase in the frequency of active behaviours previously associated with docking pain, an increase in the time spent in abnormal postures and decrease in time spent in normal postures. However, lambs tested with a familiar, related partner (twin) showed a smaller increase in rolling than the other groups (mean ranks of changeSE: FR 16.433.08, FU 26.272.59, UU 26.003.19). In addition, lambs who had previously experienced the test environment showed overall less activity and a smaller increase in active behaviours after docking than those docked on their first exposure (e.g. round 1 and 2 mean ranksSE: jump 49.372.94, 40.423.02; looking at own tail 49.592.51, 39.742.57; round 1 and 2 mean ranks of changeSE: headshake 28.242.35, 16.732.48; abnormal upright 29.042.45, 15.802.58). This is the first study to demonstrate that the occurrence of social buffering on lamb pain behaviour depends on the relationship between the actor and observer and on previous experience of the test environment.

Date 2014
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 159
Pages 41-49
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Publisher Elsevier
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.07.008
Author Address Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal health and hygiene
  3. Animals
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Bovidae
  6. Docking
  7. Humans
  8. Lambs
  9. Living conditions
  10. Mammals
  11. Men
  12. Pain
  13. Primates
  14. Ruminants
  15. Sheep
  16. Social psychology and social anthropology
  17. sociology
  18. twins
  19. ungulates
  20. vertebrates
  21. Wool producing animals