Pain of Branding, Microchip Insertion Compared in New Study

It is significantly more painful for a horse to be branded with a hot iron than it is to receive a microchip transponder for identification purposes, researchers concluded in a new study. They also found pain from hot branding lasts for at least one week.

There is some debate about how best to identify horses, with many supporters claiming that branding is best, sometimes citing the lack of proof that branding is painful to horses.

Casper Lindegaard, DVM, PhD, at the University of Copenhagen, and his colleagues, compared the immediate and post reactions to branding and microchipping in seven adult horses. All horses received both identification methods, but the researchers waited two weeks before applying the second method. Four independent observers scored the reactions of the horses.

Researchers familiarized the horses with the experimental setup every day for two weeks prior to receiving the identification methods to eliminate any environmental stress related to the procedures.

The branding elicited a significantly stronger reaction indicative of pain than did microchipping. The branding site was swollen, warm, and sensitive to the touch for a week afterward, according to Lindegaard.

"The hot iron branding is an old tradition from a time where this was the only way to identify horses," said Lindegaard. "We concluded that applying a hot iron brand to a horse does inflict pain and should be abandoned where possible. Many years of experience with microchip identification of dogs, cats, and even horses, have clearly shown that this is a far superior method of identification.

"Nobody would ever argue that dogs and cats should be branded instead of microchipped," he stated.

The study, "Evaluation of pain and inflammation associated with hot iron branding and microchip transponder injection in horses," was published in the July 2009 issue of American Journal of Veterinary Research. The abstract is available on PubMed.

Read more about forms of horse identification.  

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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