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Hot branding or microchipping?

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New research into the levels of pain involved in hot branding and microchipping has been carried out due to the recent requirement to individually identify all horses and ponies in the EU.

Hot-iron branding is still used by many continental stud books and breed registers as the preferred method of marking individuals, while, in the UK, microchipping is commonplace.

Vets in Denmark have investigated whether hot branding or chipping is the more painful or more stressful procedure.

They assessed horses’ reactions to the procedure, any pain felt and evidence of continuing inflammation.

Blood cortisol levels were analysed for signs of stress and the memory of the incident was assessed by carrying out a second, dummy run, one week later.

In terms of pain and local inflammation, hot branding proved to be more painful and caused greater prolonged sensitivity in the skin than microchipping.

There was more swelling and more evidence of skin damage in branding than in microchipping, which is not surprising and has led the authors to call for branding to be abandoned wherever possible.

But there were two surprising results: despite the pain associated with the branding, neither this nor microchipping caused any measurable stress in the horses when their blood cortisol was measured.

Similarly, neither procedure appeared to leave an unpleasant memory, since they caused no distress nor unease when the mock procedures were repeated a week later.

For all the latest veterinary research and developments, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (12 November, ’09)

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