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Behavioral and physiological correlates of stress in laboratory cats

By K. Carlstead, J. L. Brown, W. Strawn

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Sixteen domestic cats were used to investigate the pituitary-adrenal, pituitary-gonadal and behavioural consequences of an unpredictable handling and husbandry routine. After a 10-day baseline period of standard laboratory procedures, 8 cats ('stressed cats', STR) were subjected to a 21-day period of altered caretaking characterized by irregular feeding and cleaning times, absence of talking and petting by humans, and daily unpredictable manipulation. Eight control cats (CON group) were maintained for 21 days on the standard schedule. Behaviour was recorded on time-lapse video 24 h day-1, urine was collected daily for cortisol analyses, and hormone stimulation tests with synthetic corticotropin (ACTH) and LH-releasing hormone (LHRH) were conducted before and after the 3-week treatment period. Results indicate that the STR cats were chronically stressed by the altered caretaking routine. Urinary cortisol concentrations were consistently elevated throughout the 3-week period, adrenal sensitivity to ACTH was enhanced and pituitary sensitivity to LHRH was reduced. Active exploratory and play behaviour was suppressed, and STR cats spent more time awake/alert and attempting to hide. Hiding was negatively correlated with cortisol concentration and, therefore, may be an important behaviour for coping with uncontrollable and unpredictable captive environments. It is concluded that poor caretaking is a potent psychological stressor for confined cats that may eventually affect reproduction through behavioural or physiological mechanisms. To promote well-being, caged cats should be provided with a place to hide.

Date 1993
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 38
Issue 2
Pages 143-158
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20008, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal diseases
  4. Animal husbandry
  5. Animal nutrition
  6. Animal physiology
  7. Animal roles
  8. Cats
  9. Deviant behavior
  10. Endocrinology
  11. Food deprivation
  12. Glucocorticoids
  13. Hormones
  14. Laboratory and experimental animals
  15. Laboratory animal science
  16. Mammals
  17. Pets and companion animals
  18. Stress