Use of animal behavior and biomarkers for the assessment and monitoring of animal pain during calving

Animal behavior, biomarkers and animal pain at calving

  • Cynthia Mayret Salmerón-Méndez Swine Production Teaching, Research and Extension Center, Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, UNAM.
  • Patricia Mora-Medina Livestock Science Department, Facultad de Estudios Superiores Cuautitlan, UNAM.
  • Hilda Morayma Guerrero-Netro Reproduction Department, Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, UNAM.
  • Miguel González-Lozano Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM))
Keywords: pain, behaviour, farm animals, claving, biomarkers


Pain is a sensory and emotional experience that reduces the quality of life, causes suffering, and has a negative impact on the economics of farming. Reseant research on animal pain has focused on wildlife, companion, and laboratory animals. In recent years, the welfare of farmed animal species used to produce food has caught the attention of the general public due to the large populations of these animals. Pain in farm animals significantly reduces production and growth rates. However, farm animals do not over-express pain or weakness, therefore recognizing and evaluating pain can be very difficult. Pain is usually associated with routine husbandry practices but normal physiological changes such as calving can also result in pain and stress for both the mother and the newborn. Pain and stress produce similar behavioural responses, these responses are difficult to measure, have marked differences between species and might also differ with similar stimuli.  

Calving is an essential feature of the production system that can cause welfare and economic problems. Therefore, it is important to identify pain during calving and appropriately deliver the best physiotherapeutic intervention. Pain assessment tools must be reliable and, allow the assessment and evaluation of pain in a specific manner. In species such as rodents, cows, mares, and sows, current methods to assess pain focus on changes in behavior, physiology, and biological function. These methods include the collection and interpretation of data during different situations such as the administration of analgesics for pain relief. Additionally, specific biomarkers can be used to determine the short and long-term impact of pain on livestock production. Being able to recognize and assess pain will help in the prevention and mitigation of pain in animals and therefore improve animal welfare and production. This review aims to briefly discuss different methods to assess pain during calving and their application to animal production.