Purpose/Aim: In prey species, such as sheep, clinical signs of postoperative pain can manifest in subtle ways or may be concealed entirely. Previous publications describing pain assessment in ruminants focus on lameness and flock behavior, often in a farm environment. These indicators of pain may be difficult to assess in sheep housed in biomedical research settings. We have developed a novel pain scoring system for sheep undergoing thoracotomy for implantation of ventricular assist devices that are permanently housed in modified stanchions. Materials and Methods: The pain scoring system includes ruminant-specific behavioral signs of pain in addition to objective measurements that can be readily evaluated in a biomedical research setting. A numerical score is generated by the evaluator for each category. A decision tree is utilized to help guide further action following the generation of a cumulative score by the evaluator. A total score of 0–2 requires no intervention, 3–9 requires the consideration of additional analgesic administration, and a pain score ≥ 10 warrants the consideration of additional multimodal analgesia. Results: A novel pain scoring system and decision tree specifically designed for sheep undergoing thoracotomy in a biomedical research environment was developed and successfully utilized. Out of 102 postoperative pain scores measured, 86 scores were <2. There were 17/102 postoperative pain scores ≥3, which typically resulted in the administration of supplemental rescue analgesia in the immediate postoperative period. Conclusions: A novel pain scoring system was developed and utilized in a biomedical research environment for evaluating postoperative pain in sheep undergoing thoracotomy for implantation of a ventricular assist device. Further studies are necessary to validate the reliability of this novel pain scoring system.
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