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Assessment of visceral pain associated with metritis in dairy cows Stojkov, Jane


Metritis is a common disease in dairy cattle but little 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 and uterine palpation in healthy cows and in cows diagnosed with clinical signs of metritis. A total of 49 Holstein dairy cows (mean ± SD parity = 2.8 ± 1.8) were subjected to systematic health checks starting 3 d after parturition and continuing every 3 d for 21 d. Cows were scored for vaginal discharge (0 to 4); 13 cows showed a discharge score ≥ 2 during at least one health check and were classified as metritic and 29 cows were classified as ‘healthy’ all showing no sign of any other disease (including mastitis and lameness). Back arch and heart rate variability (HRV) 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 (1034.3 ± 72.7 cm² vs. 612.8 ± 48.7 cm²), and greater during uterine versus rectal palpation (869.2 ± 45.0 cm² vs. 777.9 ± 45.0 cm²). Heart rate frequency analysis showed that the low frequency portion (LF %) was higher in cows with metritis versus healthy cows (16.5 ± 1.2 vs. 12.9±1.0). The SD between normal to normal inter beat intervals and the root mean square of successive differences both decreased during uterine versus rectal 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 and uterine palpation. Uterine palpation appears to be more aversive than rectal palpation, suggesting that the former should be avoided when possible.

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