Behavioural and Hormonal Indicators of Enduring Environmental Stress in Dogs
Four groups of dogs, which had been subjected to housing conditions of varying quality for years, were assumed to experience different levels of stress. The groups were compared for behavioural and hormonal parameters in order to identify measures that indicate chronic stress in the dog and which may help to identify poor welfare in this species. As a standard for comparison, one of the four groups was composed of privately owned dogs; we assumed that chronic stress levels were relatively low in this group (GI). The three remaining groups of dogs (GII, GIII and GIV) were kept under conditions of low to relatively high austerity, and had basal urinary ratios of cortisol to creatinine, adrenaline to creatinine and, to a lesser extent, noradrenaline to creatinine, that varied from low to high, respectively. Significant differences (P < 0.05) were found in cortisol to creatinine ratios when comparing GI to GII, GIII and GIV and when GII was compared to GIV. Statistical analyses indicated that the mean adrenaline to creatinine ratio in GI differed from that in the remaining groups and that the ratio in GII differed from that in GIII. Noradrenaline to creatinine ratios differed significantly only between GI and GIII. Dopamine to creatinine ratios and noradrenaline to adrenaline ratios did not differ significantly between groups. When dogs were not disturbed, those that were kept under the most austere conditions typically had high levels of locomotor activity, nosing, urinating and paw lifting. After mild disturbance by a slamming door or in the presence of a researcher these animals reacted actively, with increased locomotor activity, circling and nosing, and they showed high levels of behaviours that have previously been associated with acute stress: body shaking, yawning, ambivalent postures and displacement behaviours. Chronic stress in dogs may be identified by increased paw lifting when animals are not disturbed and by ample behavioural expressions of arousal when they are mildly stimulated. Since some behaviours may occur in contexts not related to stress, behavioural data are easily misinterpreted with regard to chronic stress. Interpretation will only be meaningful when physiological measures such as urinary adrenaline to creatinine ratios and, especially, urinary cortisol to creatinine ratios are also determined.
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