Holdsworth, S. E., Kells, N. J., Chidgey, K. L. et al. 2021. Characterisation of the behavioural effects of a thoracic squeeze in healthy newborn piglets. Animals 11(8), 2465.
Firmly squeezing the chests of newborn foals and calves that are showing abnormal behaviours after birth causes them to enter a less-responsive state, characterised by lying down with eyes closed and no limb movements. Once the squeeze is removed, the newborns immediately ‘wake up’ and begin to display more normal behaviours. This response to the thoracic squeeze has also been observed in healthy, normally behaving foals. To date, there have been no systematic studies characterising the responses of healthy neonates of other mammalian species to a thoracic squeeze. We describe the responses of healthy newborn piglets (n = 17) to a standardised application of the thoracic squeeze and evaluate the effect of the method of squeeze application on the response. Neonatal piglets were squeezed around the chest with either a soft fabric rope as has been used in foals (n = 8) or a novel purpose-made inflation cuff (n = 9). Both methods were effective at inducing a less-responsive behavioural state in all piglets, with neural reflexes reduced or absent in over half of them. The inflation cuff appeared to induce the less-responsive state faster than the rope, and more piglets squeezed with the cuff remained in this state for the full 10-min squeeze. These findings suggest that the behavioural response of foals to thoracic squeezing can be generalised to neonates of other precocial mammalian species. This initial study provides a foundation for further research using the inflation cuff to explore mechanisms underlying the thoracic squeeze and ways in which it may be applied whilst performing husbandry procedures.