It is often assumed that giving birth is both stressful and painful for the mother. This may be the case for humans but does it also apply to horses or are we transferring human experiences to the animals?
Scientists at the Vetmeduni Vienna have investigated the stress associated with birth in horses and other domestic animals. The findings show that contrary to expectations horse mares appear to be completely relaxed when foaling. The results are published in the Journal Theriogenology.
Foaling appears to cause the opposite of a stress response.
(Photo: Vetmeduni Vienna)
Foaling in horses is extremely fast. Labour and the active part of foaling, resulting in delivery of the foal, take 10 to 20 minutes and are considerably shorter than giving birth in humans or in cows. Is this brief period stressful for the animals or are horses more relaxed than humans when giving birth?
This issue has been addressed by Christina Nagel and colleagues, who closely observed 17 foalings at the Brandenburg State Stud in Neustadt (Dosse), Germany, as well as recording electrocardiograms before, during and after foaling. The researchers also took samples of saliva and blood and analysed the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. As Nagel summarizes, “Normal foaling appears to cause just the opposite of a stress response”.
Cardiac and circulatory demands remain at a low level
Surprisingly, during labour the heart rate of mares does not increase. On the contrary, the mares even miss some individual heart beats due to delayed stimulus conduction in the heart. In humans, such second-degree atriventricular (AV) blocks often require medical treatment but many healthy horses show AV blocks at rest. On physical activity, e.g. when the horse is ridden, the heart beat becomes regular and the beat frequency increases. The finding of AV blocks during foaling suggests that mares are strongly influenced by the parasympathetic nervous system, which usually causes a state of rest and relaxation. Its antagonist, the sympathetic nervous system, would prepare the organism for a stress response but does not seem to be active while the animals are giving birth.
No stress during foaling
The level of stress hormones remains low in foaling mares and the researchers did not find an adrenaline rush at any point. Foaling clearly does not evoke a stress response. The need to care for the newly born foal was also not perceived as stressful: contact between the mare and the foal was associated with a further state of relief and relaxation.
Horses thus experience giving birth very differently from human mothers. They need a safe environment to give birth: all the foals in the study were born at night, when the stable was quiet. As the Head of the Research Group, Christine Aurich, explains, “Parturition in horses requires a state of relaxation in the mare. This is an advantage in wild horses because mares can postpone labour until they perceive the environment as calm and safe. Once this is the case, foaling proceeds within a very short time.”
The article “Parturition in horses is dominated by parasympathetic activity of the autonomous nervous system”, by Christina Nagel, Regina Erber, Natascha Ille, Mareike von Lewinski, Jörg Aurich, Erich Möstl and Christine Aurich has just been published in the scientific journal Theriogenology.
The study was conducted at the Graf Lehndorff Institute for Equine Science, a joint research unit of the Vetmeduni Vienna and the Brandenburg State Stud at Neustadt (Dosse), Germany.
About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,200 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.vetmeduni.ac.at
Dr. Christina Nagel
Clinical Unit of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Andrology
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 250776408
Dr. Susanna Kautschitsch
Science Communication / Public Relations
University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna)
T +43 1 25077-1153
Dr. Susanna Kautschitsch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Researchers discover natural product that could lead to new class of commercial herbicide
16.07.2018 | UCLA Samueli School of Engineering
Advance warning system via cell phone app: Avoiding extreme weather damage in agriculture
12.07.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF) e.V.
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences