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Do psychological and physiological stressors alter the acute pain response to castration and tail docking in lambs?


Joanna Murrell, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford House, Langford, North Somerset BS40 5DU, UK. E-mail:


Objective  To investigate whether events that may be stressful to young lambs, including simulated infection or social isolation, modulate pain experienced by lambs following castration and tail docking (C/D).

Study design  Randomised, controlled, prospective study.

Animals  Fifty male lambs born to 46 second-parity Mule ewes.

Methods  Lambs were allocated randomly to one of four groups, experiencing either a potential stressor or handling on day 2 after birth, followed by C/D or handling only on day 3. Quantitative sensory testing (QST) data [mechanical nociceptive thresholds (MNT), Semmes Weinstein filaments (SW), response to cold] and serum cortisol concentration were measured at time points after application of treatments to lambs on days 2 and 3 after birth. The treatment groups were LPS, injection of bacterial lipopolysaccharide IV on day 2, C/D on day 3; ISOL, isolation from the dam for 10 minutes on day 2, C/D on day 3; CAST, handling only on day 2, C/D on day 3; CONT, handled only on days 2 and 3.

Results  Castration and tail docking caused transient hypoalgesia as measured by MNT and SW. Simulated infection and isolation caused hyperalgesia 3 hours after application, indicated by a reduction in MNT, however they did not alter the pain response to C/D compared to lambs in the CAST group. Injection of LPS and C/D caused increased serum cortisol concentration. The magnitude of the cortisol response to C/D was not altered by prior exposure to either LPS or isolation.

Conclusions and clinical relevance  LPS and isolation did not modulate the response to C/D but did cause hyperalgesia. This highlights the importance of flock health management and husbandry techniques to reduce the incidence of either systemic infection or psychological stressors in young lambs.