Pain In Horses

Pain is defined as a feeling of distress, suffering, or agony caused by stimulation of specialized nerve endings. The scientific term for the perception of pain is nociception, with noci the Latin for harm or injury.

No account yet? Register


Pain is defined as “a feeling of distress, suffering, or agony caused by stimulation of specialized nerve endings.” The scientific term for the perception of pain is “nociception,” with noci the Latin for “harm or injury.”

Pain and its control are one of the largest topics in medicine. A quick literature search on only one database going back to 1986 yields 58,700 articles pertaining to some aspect of pain (99 of which related specifically to pain in horses). Over the last century, the effort to control pain and suffering in people has been great, but it has only been in the last two decades that a similar effort has been directed toward our animal companions.

In 1987, an entire issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association was devoted to animal pain by publishing the Colloquium on Recognition and Alleviation of Animal Pain and Distress. The issue included 40 articles by 32 authors on 23 topics related to the understanding of pain and its alleviation.

In an extremely simplified explanation, pain is first identified by special receptors at nerve endings. Once the signal, be it a sharp nail in the foot or a gas pocket in the colon, is detected by the receptor, the message is sent via nerves to the spinal cord. The spinal cord functions as a relay switch, where signals are potentially modified and sent up the spinal system to the brain. It is in the brain that the pain signals are processed, perceived, and the agony begins. This is oversimplified, but gives enough foundation for us to later discuss mechanisms for “blocking” pain at the receptor, in the spinal cord, and in the brain

Create a free account with to view this content. is home to thousands of free articles about horse health care. In order to access some of our exclusive free content, you must be signed into

Start your free account today!

Already have an account?
and continue reading.


Written by:

Michael A. Ball, DVM, completed an internship in medicine and surgery and an internship in anesthesia at the University of Georgia in 1994, a residency in internal medicine, and graduate work in pharmacology at Cornell University in 1997, and was on staff at Cornell before starting Early Winter Equine Medicine & Surgery located in Ithaca, New York. He was an FEI veterinarian and worked internationally with the United States Equestrian Team. He died in 2014.

Related Articles

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with

FREE weekly newsletters from

Sponsored Content

Weekly Poll

sponsored by:

What do you think: Can pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) be managed by medication alone?
126 votes · 126 answers

Readers’ Most Popular

Sign In

Don’t have an account? Register for a FREE account here.

Need to update your account?

You need to be logged in to fill out this form

Create a free account with!