Edmunson, A. M., Duke Boynton, F. D., Rendahl, A. et al. 2021. Indicators of postoperative pain in Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus). Comparative Medicine 71(1), 76-85.
Despite the use of Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) in research, little is known about the evaluation of pain in this species. This study investigated whether the frequency of certain behaviors, a grimace scale, the treat-take-test proxy indicator, body weight, water consumption, and coat appearance could be monitored as signs of postoperative pain in hamsters in a research setting. Animals underwent no manipulation, anesthesia only or laparotomy under anesthesia. An ethogram was constructed and used to determine the frequencies of pain, active and passive behaviors by in-person and remote videorecording observation methods. The Syrian Hamster Grimace Scale (SHGS) was developed for evaluation of facial expressions before and after the surgery. The treat-take-test assessed whether surgery would affect the animals' motivation to take a high-value food item from a handler. The hypothesis was that behavior frequency, grimace scale, treat-take-test score, body weight, water consumption, and coat appearance would change from baseline in the surgery group but not in the no-intervention and anesthesia-only groups. At several time points, pain and passive behaviors were higher than during baseline in the surgery group but not the anesthesia-only and no-intervention groups. The SHGS score increased from baseline scores in 3 of the 9 animals studied after surgery. The frequency of pain behaviors and SHGS scores were highly specific but poorly sensitive tools to identify animals with pain. Behaviors in the pain category were exhibited by chiefly, but not solely, animals that underwent the laparotomy. Also, many animals that underwent laparotomy did not show behaviors in the pain category. Treat-take-test scores, body weight, water consumption, and coat appearance did not change from baseline in any of the 3 groups. Overall, the methods we tested for identifying Syrian hamsters experiencing postoperative pain were not effective. More research is needed regarding clinically relevant strategies to assess pain in Syrian hamsters.