Short communication: Assessment of disbudding pain in dairy calves using nonlinear measures of heart rate variability

C. J. Byrd, B. A. Craig, S. D. Eicher, J. S. Radcliffe, D. C. Lay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether pain-related stress caused by disbudding could be detected using nonlinear measures of heart rate variability (HRV). Twenty-five female Holstein calves (4–7 wk of age) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 treatments: (1) sham disbud (SHAM; n = 9), (2) disbud with lidocaine–meloxicam pain mitigation (MED; n = 8), or (3) disbud without pain mitigation (NoMED; n = 8). Heart rate variability (sample entropy, percentage determinism, percentage recurrence, or mean length of diagonal lines in a recurrence plot) was recorded on d −1, 0, 1, 3, and 5 relative to the experimental procedure, with disbudding taking place on d 0. The short-term detrended fluctuation analysis scaling exponent was greater in MED calves than in SHAM calves, indicating a greater stress response to the disbudding procedure regardless of pain mitigation. These results indicate that calves in the MED group may have experienced pain-related stress as a result of the disbudding procedure. The remaining nonlinear HRV measures did not differ by treatment. Future research on this topic should address additional potential confounding factors, such as the effect of pain-mitigating drugs on autonomic function or the influence of the autonomic nervous system on wound healing, that may prohibit HRV measurement as an indicator of disbudding pain severity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8410-8416
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Dairy Science Association


  • dairy calf
  • disbudding
  • heart rate variability
  • pain
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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