W-EPWA: The Working Equine Pain and Welfare App

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For millennia, horses and donkeys have formed an integral part of society. The world as we know it today has – quite literally – been built on the back of man’s “other” best friend.

While horses throughout the Western World are considered a source of joy, pleasure and even self-fulfillment, working equidae, such as donkeys, can make the difference between life and death, between poverty and prosperity in many developing countries. In its second Action Plan (2017-2019), the world’s leading organization on animal welfare issues, the World Organization for Animal Health, has included welfare of working equids as one of their top five priorities, underlining the importance of these animals to the economic stability of rural communities worldwide.

Should a donkey become injured, ill or even die, an entire family is likely to descend into even greater levels of poverty. That is why diagnosing and treating an ill or injured working equid is essential, both in terms of animal welfare as well as for social-economic reasons.


Detecting illness and pain in (working) equids 


Yet despite the obvious and deep bonds between humans and donkeys, looking after and caring for equidae can, at times, be difficult. This is particularly true with regards to the detection and management of discomfort and pain. Unfortunately, and despite all of their good intentions, people are not always able to interpret relevant non-verbal signals displayed by horses or donkeys correctly. In the short term, this could likely result in inappropriate management practices, leading, in the long term, to serious impairments of the animal’s health and welfare.

Over the past few years, Dr. Thijs van Loon and colleagues at the faculty of veterinary medicine of Utrecht University have been able to show that composite pain scales may be used to accurately measure pain in horses as well as donkeys. Such scales generally comprise several indicators, including behavourial parameters such as lying down, rolling and scratching, physiological variables such as heart rate and respiratory frequency, and interactive variables such as touching the painful area.

In addition, facial expressions, such as the positioning and movement of the ears, nostrils, eyelids, and mouth have proven to be accurate indicators of pain in equids. They have shown to work especially well in detecting pain or discomfort in patients suffering from colic, facial or orthopedic pain.


The Equine Pain and Welfare App


Based on these studies and thanks to the support of many committed lovers of horses and donkeys, Friends of VetMed and the Dutch foundation "De Paardenkamp" were able to develop the Equine Pain and Welfare App ('EPWA'). EPWA contains scientifically validated, yet easy to understand information regarding the scoring of pain and the monitoring of welfare of horses and donkeys. The current version of EPWA has been launched in september 2018 and is aimed at owners of horses and donkeys kept for sport or leisure in Europe and the US. EPWA has been downloaded thousands of times already and is helping owners to recognise pain and discomfort in their horses and donkeys and thereby improving their health and welfare. 

But we believe we can do more! 

We believe that EPWA can be a vital tool to help improve the welfare of working donkeys worldwide. 


Why we need W-EPWA!


That's why we want to develop a version of EPWA, specifically aimed at working donkeys in rural communities and developing countries. 

We want our Working Equine Pain and Welfare App ('W-EPWA') to: 

  • be easy to use for veterinarians, animal health workers, and interested owners
  • be available offline in areas with poor or no internet reception
  • allow for the tracking of donkeys
  • help detect and diagnose acute and chronic pain in working donkeys
  • be based on scientifically validated pain-scales to assess acute and chronic pain in working donkeys

W-EPWA will be provided free of charge in order to encourage its widespread use and improve the health and welfare of horses and donkeys worldwide.


Why we need you! 


Your donation will go towards the development of W-EPWA and help improve the health and welfare of working donkeys worldwide.

Thank you so much for your support!