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Canadian Bovine Mastitis Research Network

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Is Mastitis Painful?  If Cows Could Talk…

It is difficult to identify and measure animals’ pain and suffering, because these sensations can only be measured indirectly. They are even more difficult to assess in bovines, which have evolved as prey animals. Consequently, the only indication of their suffering is very subtle behavioural changes—in the wild, showing pain or weakness could lead to harm. The prime indicator of pain in animals is changes in their normal behaviour. The little research data currently available show that cows with mastitis spend less time eating, chewing cud and sleeping in their stalls. Their heart rate, rectal temperature and respiration rate are also higher than those of healthy cows. Special sophisticated equipment is required to observe all of these subtle changes; however, its use in mastitis research has been very limited up to now.
This is why a research team led by Dr. Ken Leslie of the University of Guelph has recently begun a CBMRN research project that will broaden our understanding of behavioural changes associated with clinical mastitis and the discomfort cows feel after dry-off. The results of this research will provide data that will serve as a basis for developing new management practices and applying therapeutic strategies to alleviate cows’ mastitis-induced pain and suffering. The cows will thank you for it, once they learn to talk.

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