This paper discusses the evidence for pain perception in fish and presents new data on morphine analgesia in fish. Recent anatomical and electrophysiological studies have demonstrated that fish are capable of nociception, the simple detection of a noxious, potentially painful stimulus and the reflex response to this. To prove pain perception, it must be demonstrated that an animal’s behaviour is adversely affected by a potentially painful event and this must not be a reflex response. The present study examined the acute effects of administering a noxious chemical to the lips of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) to assess what changes occurred in behaviour and physiology. There was no difference in swimming activity or use of cover when comparing the noxiously stimulated individuals with the controls. The noxiously treated individuals performed anomalous behaviours where they rocked on either pectoral fin from side to side and they also rubbed their lips into the gravel and against the sides of the tank. Opercular beat rate (gill or ventilation rate) increased almost double fold after the noxious treatment whereas the controls only showed a 30% increase. Administering morphine significantly reduced the pain-related behaviours and opercular beat rate and thus morphine appears to act as an analgesic in the rainbow trout. It is concluded that these pain-related behaviours are not simple reflexes and therefore there is the potential for pain perception in fish.
Sneddon, L. U. (2003). The evidence for pain in fish: the use of morphine as an analgesic. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 83(2), 153-162.