The objective of this study was to compare the stress response of horses suffering from laminitis after short- and long-term treatment with the intent to evaluate power spectral analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) for pain monitoring. Data were collected from 19 horses with acute or chronic exacerbating laminitis without known primary disease before and after treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). Recordings were carried out the day after admission to the equine hospital. Measurements were repeated on day 7 of the treatment. The recorded parameters included a clinical orthopaedic index (OLPI: Obel-grade plus hoof tester score), frequency of weight-shifting between contralateral limbs, mean beat-to-beat interval (R-R) duration, standard deviation of continuous R-R intervals, low- (LF) and high-frequency (HF) components of HRV, sympatho-vagal balance (LF/HF), and plasma concentration of cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin. The LF represents mainly sympathetic influences on the heart whereas HF is mediated by the parasympathetic tone. Weight-shifting and OLPI decreased significantly with treatment. The LF normalized units (n.u.) decreased after NSAID from 60.41 +/- 21.42 to 51.12 +/- 19.81 and was 49.33 +/- 22.64 on day 7, whereas HF n.u. increased from 35.07 +/- 20.02 to 43.14 +/- 18.30 and was 45.98 +/- 23.00 on day 7. Hormone levels showed no tendency to change with treatment. The OLPI was only correlated with LF/HF, LF and HF (R = 0.57, 0.55 and -0.54 respectively). Significant negative correlations existed between HFn.u. and weight-shifting frequency (R = -0.37), HFn.u. and adrenalin (R = -0.47), and HFn.u. and noradrenalin (R = 0.33). The LFn.u. only correlated positively with adrenalin. Cortisol levels were poorly associated with the other parameters. Determination of the sympatho-vagal influences on cardiac function may offer complementary information for reliable assessment of pain and may represent a valuable alternative method to catecholamine measurements.
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