Assessment of visceral pain associated with metritis in dairy cows

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Source: Journal of Dairy ScienceJ.Stojkov*M.A.G.von Keyserlingk*J.N.Marchant-FordeD.M.Weary*

Abstract

Metritis is a common disease in dairy cattle, but to our knowledge, no work has assessed pain associated with this disease. Tissue palpation is commonly used to assess pain in human and veterinary medicine.

The objective of this study was to evaluate visceral pain responses during rectal palpation, with and without uterine palpation, in healthy cows and in cows diagnosed with metritis.

A total of 49 Holstein dairy cows (mean ± standard deviation parity of 2.8 ± 1.8) were subjected to systematic health checks every 3 d after parturition for 21 d, scoring for vaginal discharge (0 to 4); 13 cows showed a discharge score ≥2 during at least 1 health check and were classified as metritic, whereas 29 cows were classified as healthy and showed no sign of this or any other disease (including mastitis and lameness). Back arch and heart rate variability before examination and during palpation were recorded using video and heart rate monitors. Back arch (cm2) on the day of diagnosis was greater in metritic versus healthy cows (1,034 ± 72 vs. 612 ± 48 cm2), and greater during rectal palpation with uterine palpation versus rectal palpation without uterine palpation (869 ± 45 vs. 777 ± 45 cm2). Heart rate frequency domain analysis showed that the low-frequency portion was higher in cows with metritis versus healthy cows (16.5 ± 1.2 vs. 12.9 ± 1.0). Time domain analysis showed that the standard deviation between normal to normal interbeat intervals and the root mean square of successive differences both decreased during rectal palpation with uterine palpation versus rectal palpation without uterine palpation (1.9 ± 0.1 vs. 2.5 ± 0.1 and 1.3 ± 0.1 vs. 1.7 ± 0.1, respectively).

Together, these results indicate that the inflammation associated with metritis is painful, and that the pain response can be detected during rectal palpation with and without uterine palpation. Rectal palpation with uterine palpation appears to be more aversive than rectal palpation without uterine palpation, suggesting that the former should be avoided when possible.