Despite a long history of debate about negative affective states in animals, it was only in the last decades of the 20th century that the state of pain was mentioned in definitions of animal welfare, included in veterinary education, and became a target of scientific interest. Pain is a perceptional phenomenon built from information gathered by specialized sensory receptors for tissue damage and integrated into a discrete experience with a negative emotional valence in the brain. Based on knowledge about porcine neuroanatomy, physiology, and studies focusing on pig behavior and pathology, we review evidence for causes of pain in pigs, underlying biological mechanisms, as well as the possibility to quantify different types of indicators of pain states relevant to the welfare of the animals under production conditions. The presentation will primarily focus on pigs because of the dual purpose of this species as a meat producing as well as research animal species (the latter driven by the anatomical and physiological homologies with humans), making pigs unique among livestock. We will present methodologies and results from current research projects across Europe and North America targeting typical industry-related injuries (e.g., tail docking, lameness, and shoulder lesions) and aiming to understand the welfare consequences for the pigs. Throughout the talk, the emphasis will be put on future opportunities to link research outcomes with industry initiatives toward the improvement of animal welfare and production. In addition, possible future research efforts to help face current methodological limitations and favor a more comprehensive evaluation of animal pain as an overall experience will be discussed. This seeks to facilitate common future targeted research and enable us to overcome the paradoxical low level of knowledge about porcine pain and its alleviation under production conditions.
Tail biting constitutes a major welfare and health issue in commercial pig rearing, with significant negative economic consequences. Contrary to the aim of the EU directive (2001/93/EC), tail docking is still widely practiced in most EU countries as a measure to reduce the incidence of tail biting and concomitant pathologies. Mutilations are a general welfare concern in all species, and any efforts towards reducing the need for tail docking are important for the future sustainability of the EU pig sector. Sound policy making needs science-based risk assessment, including assessment of the severity of problems and effectiveness of solutions. The general objectives of the FareWellDock-project included estimation of the relative harms associated with tail docking and tail biting, and evaluation of the efficacy of some main preventive measures against tail biting, which could reduce the need for tail docking. The ultimate aim was to stimulate the development towards a non-docking policy in the EU.
The first objective of WP1 was to evaluate measures of acute and chronic pain in relation to tail damage. This included assessment of the short (acute trauma), medium (post trauma inflammation) and long term (traumatic neuroma formation) pain associated with tail docking in neonatal piglets, and the possible consequences for longer term fear of humans. In addition, the studies assessed the effects of tail-damage in more mature pigs to provide a basis for assessing the pain associated with being tail bitten in later life. Finally, studies were conducted to assess the effects of an NSAID analgesic on the short term responses to neonatal tail docking.
Experimental studies confirmed that piglets do experience pain when tail docked, and that pain relief treatment, such as meloxicam, can lessen but not abolish the physiological stress reaction to docking. Piglets which have been tail docked seem more fearful of people afterwards than undocked animals. In docked tails, no difference in pain sensitivity of the tail (as measured by behavioural withdrawal) is detected after 8 weeks, but changes in the functioning of the sensory nerves from the tail can still be measured after 4 months, which suggests that the possibility for longer term pain exists. When the tail is damaged later in life, as happens with tail biting, changes in both tail stump sensitivity and nerve functioning can last for at least 4 months, and possibly beyond.
WP2 focused on the role of manipulable material when reducing the need for tail docking. The aim was to develop and validate ways to assess if on-farm use of manipulable material is sufficient to reduce tail biting. Further, the aim was to describe suitable methods for implementing the use of straw under commercial farming conditions and to investigate, in on-farm conditions, the efficiency of tail docking vs. enrichment given in sufficient quantity to reduce the occurrence of tail lesions.
A screening method to assess the appropriateness of the level of enrichment on-farm was developed and includes scoring of the amount of unsoiled straw, the behaviour, and ear, tail and flank lesions of the pigs. AMI (animal-material interaction) sensors were used e.g. to show that pigs in biter pens were more interested in novel ropes than pigs in control pens, that environmental enrichment may reduce exploratory behaviour of point-source objects, and that sick pigs, experimentally infected with streptococcus spp, were less interested in chain manipulation. The sensors appear to be a promising tool to assess the use of manipulable material by pigs. In countries (SE and FI) where tail docking is not done, farmers report using on average of 30 to 50 g of straw/pig/ day, equivalent to about 0.5 L/pig/day. A survey in SE revealed fewer injurious tail biting outbreaks on farms using larger amounts of straw. Larger amounts of straw were mainly used on farms having scrapers in the slurry channels. A large experimental study showed that a moderate amount of straw (150 gr/pig/day) reduced injurious tail-biting outbreak in finisher pigs by more than 50%, while docking seemed to be more effective as it reduced tail biting by more than four-fold. The effect of both measures was additive, i.e. docking and straw reduced tail biting 9 fold. Further, it was shown that increasing the amount of straw from 10 to up to 400 gr/pig/day had multiple positive effects by progressively reducing the occurrence of tail injuries and stomach ulcers, increasing growth rate, increasing straw-directed behaviour, and reducing redirected behaviours towards other pigs.
In WP3 the aim was to clarify the role of poor health in the causation of tail biting and victimization, and the aim was study early identification of tail-biting outbreaks. In addition, the aim to develop automated systems for early warning of tail biting outbreaks.
The results of experimental and on-farm studies showed that the social behaviour of sick pigs differs from healthy pen mates, as pigs with osteochondrosis received more sniffing and tail bites from their pen mates than healthy pigs, while pigs with mild respiratory disease tended to bite more at the ears and tails of pen mates than healthy pigs did. In addition, studies of cytokines suggest that low-grade inflammation may decrease activity and increase receiving sniffs and attacks from other pigs. Studies on data sets from commercial pig farms indicated that changes in feeding behaviour may be an important sign of an increased risk for tail biting to occur: Future tail bitten individuals showed a reduced feed intake already 2-3 weeks before tail damage became evident. Furthermore, feeding behaviour in groups which develop tail biting may differ from non-biting groups for at least ten weeks prior to an injurious tail-biting outbreak. It was also shown that tail-chewing activity may start 2-3 weeks before tail damage can be seen. A detailed behavioural study of tail biting events revealed that there appears to be no such thing as a ‘typical’ tail-biting event and that the behaviour shown immediately before a tail-biting event does not differ from behaviour prior to another type of social interaction, namely ano-genital sniffing. Thus, it seems difficult to predict if a social event will escalate into tail biting or not. However, tail biting is more likely between pigs that have previously interacted. Data sets from several countries and studies indicated an association between tail-biting damage and tear staining, but the direction of this association is not clear.
In summary the project concluded on a set of practical recommendations, which have been published as part of four factsheets on the FareWellDock-webpage:
Avoid tail docking whenever possible because it definitely causes pain, induces long-term changes in sensory-nerve function and may impair the pigs’ confidence in humans.
Avoid tail biting, and hence the need for tail docking, by addressing risk factors on the farm.
Treat tail-bitten pigs promptly and consider pain relief.
To reduce injurious tail-biting outbreaks, use straw as it might be almost as effective as tail docking. For this purpose, the more straw the better.
To ensure that sufficient straw is allocated check that there is left-over straw before the next day’s allocation.
Keep your pigs healthy. This will be good both for productivity and also help avoid injurious tail-biting outbreaks.
If pigs show signs of illness, be more alert to tail biting risk.
Remove tail-bitten pigs promptly to avoid further damage and treat according to veterinary advice.
Pay special attention to groups of pigs where you see:
high or suddenly increased levels of general activity or exploration
tail manipulation or chewing
swinging or tucked tails
low or decreasing numbers of visits to an automatic feeder or reduced feed intake
Information on project activities and publications have been continuously published on the FareWellDock-webpage. To date, 16 scientific articles have been published, and 9 are in preparation. Communication to stakeholders has been active, both through the FareWellDock-webpage, including 97 blog posts, and by interviews in media in different countries, popular articles and presentations at producer seminars. In October 2016 the results were presented widely at the EU level to policy makers and other stakeholders at the ‘Meeting and Webinar on Actions to Prevent Tail biting and Reduce Tail docking of Pigs’, organized by the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Food Safety in Grange, Ireland.
Due to the positive experience of the cooperation a decision was made at the last project meeting in DK in October 2016 that we will continue our cooperation as the FareWellDock-network, also inviting further researchers and stakeholders to join. The first activity of the FWD-network will be to organise a satellite meeting at the Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology in August 2017 in DK, and to launch an emailing list to make sure FWD-network members and other researchers keep updated on research progress and related topics.
The FareWellDock factsheets are out. Below you find the cover factsheet as well as the factsheets on tail docking, enrichment, health and the prediction of tail biting. This post shows images of the English versions, and links to the pdf version of the English factsheets, as well as all factsheets in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish. Separate pages are available directly showing the factsheets in the other languages (Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish).
A recent research paper has reported a positive effect of an online training tool on participants’ understanding of taildocking and enrichment legislation, as well as risk factors for tail biting. The training tool was aimed at official inspectors and others involved in enforcement of legislative requirements on pig farms. The research was a collaboration of 15 researchers from 9 EU countries, led by the University of Bristol, UK. The online training tool is free to use and is available in 7 different languages: English, French, German, Polish, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. It can be accessed here:
An online training package providing a concise synthesis of the scientific data underpinning EU legislation on enrichment and taildocking of pigs was produced in seven languages, with the aim of improving consistency of professional judgements regarding legislation compliance on farms. In total, 158 participants who were official inspectors, certification scheme assessors and advisors from 16 EU countries completed an initial test and an online training package. Control group participants completed a second identical test before, and Training group participants after, viewing the training. In Section 1 of the test participants rated the importance of modifying environmental enrichment defined in nine scenarios from 1 (not important) to 10 (very important). Training significantly increased participants’ overall perception of the need for change. Participants then rated nine risk factors for tail-biting from 1 (no risk) to 10 (high risk). After training scores were better correlated with risk rankings already described by scientists. Scenarios relating to tail-docking and management were then described. Training significantly increased the proportion of respondents correctly identifying that a farm without tail lesions should stop tail-docking. Finally, participants rated the importance of modifying enrichment in three further scenarios. Training increased ratings in all three. The pattern of results indicated that participants’ roles influenced scores but overall the training improved: i) recognition of enrichments that, by virtue of their type or use by pigs, may be insufficient to achieve legislation compliance; ii) knowledge on risk factors for tail-biting; and iii) recognition of when routine tail-docking was occurring.
Note that the training tool is being used in Poland to train animal science students, farm assurance in the UK has shown recent interest in using the tool, and the Austrian pig health service is compiling a brochure based on EUWelNet on tail biting/enrichment material.
“Freedom from pain, injury and disease” is one of the fundamental aspects of good animal welfare. However, in commercial pig production there are a number of situations where animals may experience pain. This may result from procedures carried out deliberately for management purposes, or from spontaneous health disorders. In order to make decisions on the ethical justification of procedures and the provision of pain alleviation by appropriate anaesthesia and analgesia, it is necessary to assess the intensity and duration of pain experienced by the animals. A number of behavioural, physiological and molecular methods now exist for such assessment but, since pain is a subjective experience which the individual may express in different ways, interpreting these measures can be a challenge. Better methods are required for the practical on-farm assessment of pain and the provision of analgesia when this occurs.
Introduction: Concerns exist over the long term consequences for tail stump pain experienced by piglets after docking, especially in relation to traumatic neuroma development in caudal nerves after docking injury. Neuroma formation may cause detrimental sensory changes in the tail due to altered axonal excitability leading to abnormal sensation or pain.
Aims: To characterize pig tail histopathology at time intervals up to 16 weeks after tail docking and to measure expression of key neuropeptides in caudal dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord neurons associated with (i) peripheral nerve regeneration; activating transcription factor-3 (ATF3), (ii) inflammatory pain; Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and (iii) the maintenance of chronic pain; N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) ionotropic glutamate receptor subtype 2B (GRIN2B) at the same time points after tail docking injury.
Materials and Methods: Thirty-two female piglets (Landrace/Large White x synthetic sireline) were used (16 docked/16 sham-docked). Piglets were tail docked (amputation of approx. 2/3 of the tail) on post-natal day 3 using a gas hot docking iron. Equivalent sham-docked piglets served as intact controls. Pigs were euthanized by barbiturate overdose 1, 4, 8 and 16 weeks after sham/tail docking. Tail stumps (2 cm) were collected post-mortem for histopathological assessment. Caudal dorsal root ganglia (Ca1-Ca4+) and associated spinal cord were collected for gene expression analysis by real-time quantitative PCR of mRNA.
Results: Non-specific epidermal and dermal changes associated with healing were observed after tail docking. Mild inflammation, ulceration and oedema were present at 1 week. Traumatic neuroma development was a consistent feature from 4 weeks after tail docking. Neuroma axonal dispersion in the tail stump was on-going 16 weeks after tail docking. ATF-3 mRNA was significantly upregulated in caudal DRGs up to 8 weeks after tail docking, but did not differ at 16 weeks compared with sham controls. Both CGRP and GRIN2B mRNA expression was significantly upregulated 1 week after tail docking in caudal spinal cord neurons but were not significantly different from sham-docked pigs thereafter.
Conclusion: Histopathological lesions that occur shortly after tail docking (beyond 1 week) are not likely to induce or maintain pain. The effects of tail docking on peripheral nerve axonal proliferation and dispersion are relatively short-lived and, although still present, are attenuated by 16 weeks after tail docking injury. Changes in peripheral and spinal nociceptive processing associated with possible inflammatory and chronic pain appear to resolve by 4 weeks after tail docking injury.
Introduction: Tail biting is a global welfare problem in the pig industry leading to significant tail injury and potential carcass rejection. The temporal effects of such injuries and subsequent healing are presently unknown, although limb amputation in humans can lead to abnormal neural activity and decreased nociceptive thresholds. In order to evaluate potential sensitisation following tail damage, we created a model by surgical amputation of tails, and assessed mechanical nociceptive thresholds.
Materials and Methods: Surgical tail resection was performed to assess the influence of age, extent of tail amputated and time since amputation on thresholds of mechanical nociception. To evaluate the effect of age at the time of injury, female pigs underwent surgery at 9 weeks (±3 days ‘weaner’) (n=19) or 17 weeks (±3 days ‘finisher’) (n=43). The effect of time after amputation was evaluated on 24 pigs at 8 weeks, and 38 pigs at 16 weeks after surgery. The effect of the extent of tail amputated was assessed by assigning the pigs to 3 treatments (‘Intact’: sham-amputation; ‘short tail’: 2/3 of tail removed; ‘long tail’: 1/3 of tail removed). A Pressure Application Measurement device was used to record mechanical nociceptive thresholds (tail flick or tail clamp withdrawal responses). Within a single session, three stimuli were applied to a skin area proximal to the site of amputation, 3 days pre-surgery, 1 week and either 8 or 16 weeks post-amputation.
Results: Across the two amputation ages, results indicated that tail amputation induced a significant reduction (P<0.05) in mechanical nociceptive thresholds in short and long tails one week after surgery. The same treatment effect was observed at 16 weeks after amputation performed at 9 weeks of age (P<0.05). For surgeries performed at 17 weeks of age, thresholds tended to be lower in short compared to intact tails (P=0.081) and significantly lower (P<0.05) in long tail pigs 8 weeks after amputation. No significant difference was observed at 16 weeks following surgeries performed at 17 weeks of age.
Conclusion: These results show that surgical amputation of pig tails leads to decreased cutaneous mechanical nociceptive thresholds in the skin area proximal to the site of injury. Results indicated that severe tail injury occurring in the weaner period may be associated with sensitisation up to 16 weeks following the injury. In contrast, injuries occurring in the finishing period appeared to be associated with shorter lasting mechanical sensitisation, resolving within 16 weeks.
• Mechanical nociceptive thresholds were quantified for the first time in pig tails.
• The PAM device allowed determining anatomical and age-specific thresholds in pigs.
• A platform for the assessment of painful conditions in pigs is proposed.
The assessment of nociceptive thresholds is employed in animals and humans to evaluate changes in sensitivity potentially arising from tissue damage. Its application on the intact pig tail might represent a suitable method to assess changes in nociceptive thresholds arising from tail injury, such as tail docking or tail biting. The Pressure Application Measurement (PAM) device is used here for the first time on the tail of pigs to determine the reliability of the methods and to provide novel data on mechanical nociceptive thresholds (MNT) associated with four different age groups (9, 17, 24 and 32 weeks) and with proximity of the target region to the body of the animal. We recorded an overall acceptable level of intra-individual reliability, with mean values of CV ranging between 30.1 and 32.6%. Across all age groups, the first single measurement of MNT recorded at region 1 (proximal) was significantly higher (P b 0.05) than the following two. This was not observed at tail regions 2 and 3 (more distal). Age had a significant effect (P b 0.05) on the mean thresholds of nociception with increasing age corresponding to higher thresholds. Furthermore, a significant effect of proximity of tail region to the body was observed (P b 0.05), with MNT being higher in the proximal tail region in pigs of 9, 17 and 24 weeks of age.
There was also a significant positive correlation (P b 0.05) between mechanical nociceptive thresholds and age/body size of the animals.
To the best of our knowledge, no other investigation of tail nociceptive thresholds has been performed with the PAM device or alternative methods to obtain mechanical nociceptive thresholds in intact tails of pigs of different age/body size. The reliability of the data obtained with the PAM device support its use in the measurement of mechanical nociceptive threshold in pig tails. This methodological approach is possibly suitable for assessing changes in tail stump MNTs after tail injury caused by tail docking and biting.
Tail docking of neonatal pigs is widely used as a measure to reduce the incidence of tail biting, a complex management problem in the pig industry. Concerns exist over the long-term consequences of tail docking for possible tail stump pain sensitivity due to the development of traumatic neuromas in injured peripheral nerves. Tail stumps were obtained post mortem from four female pigs at each of 1, 4, 8 and 16 weeks following tail amputation (approximately two-thirds removed) by a gas-heated docking iron on post natal day 3. Tissues were processed routinely for histopathological examination. Non-neural inflammatory and reparative epidermal and dermal changes associated with tissue thickening and healing were observed 1 to 4 months after docking. Mild neutrophilic inflammation was present in some cases, although this and other degenerative and non-neural reparative changes are not likely to have caused pain. Traumatic neuroma and neuromatous tissue development was not observed 1 week after tail docking, but was evident 1 month after tail docking. Over time there was marked nerve sheath and axonal proliferation leading to the formation of neuromata, which were either localized and circumscribed or comprised of multiple axons dispersed within granulation tissue. Four months after tail resection, neuroma formation was still incomplete, with possible implications for sensitivity of the tail stump.
Corrigendum to “Histopathological Characterization of Tail Injury and Traumatic Neuroma Development after Tail Docking in Piglets” J Comp Pathol 155 (1) (2016) 40-49.
The authors wish to clarify terminology used in their paper entitled ‘Histopathological characterization of tail injury and traumatic neuroma development after tail docking in piglets’ and thank the Editor for the opportunity to do so. In the absence of a specific immunohistochemical label for detection of axons, the words ‘axon/axonal’ were inaccurately used and should be replaced by ‘Schwann cell’. Without more specific proof, it
certainly does not confirm, or necessarily infer, conduction. Secondly, ‘S100 neurofilament’ was inadvertently used instead of simply ‘S100’. The authors apologise for this error, which was wholly editorial on their part. Finally, in our opinion, the literature definitions of traumatic neuromas are such that there is likely to be some disagreement as to their required component features, particularly at different stages of lesion development, in different species and in different age groups of animals. In our paper, descriptions of traumatic neuroma presence and development were also based on haematoxylin and eosin staining and not solely confined to S100 immunolabelling. To this end, features such as variably-sized microfascicles, disorderly (often circumferential) neural proliferation and nerve fibres turning back on themselves are consistent with previous reports on traumatic neuromas in a number of species, including pigs.
While the aforementioned errors are regretted, this work was intended as a descriptive morphological characterization of a wide range of histopathological changes over known time points post docking. We have had some criticism that, due to our use of the word axonal, we have implied or claimed innervation, and thus pain sensation,
during the weeks after docking. This was not our intention – rather, our opinion is neutral in terms of whether or not traumatic neuromas are painful. The last sentence of the paper acknowledged that this work could not determine that. This study was considered descriptive and foundational, to serve as a platform for further investigation.
Its take-home message, irrespective of the error in terminology, is that neural proliferation consistent with traumatic neuroma development appears to be still ongoing at 16 weeks after tail docking.