New research suggests that dogs who spend a short time in boarding kennels may not find it unduly stressful and could in fact find the change of scenery exciting.
This hypothesis directly contradicts previous research which suggests that dogs experience acute stress following admission to kennels, and chronic stress in response to prolonged kennelling.
The study, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, also suggests that dogs may even view kennelling as an exciting change of scene, at least in the short-term.
The team, which included academics from the University of Birmingham, University of Lincoln, Queen’s University Belfast and The Royal Veterinary College, measured a range of stress parameters in 29 privately-owned dogs – both at home and in one of three private boarding kennel establishments in Northern Ireland.
This study aimed to test the validity of a range of physiological, physical and behavioural welfare indicators and to establish baseline values reflecting good dog welfare.
Physical measurements included skin dryness, nose temperature, core body temperature and amount of food eaten. Behavioural measurements included spontaneous behaviours such as lip licking, paw lifting, yawning, shaking and restlessness. Physiological measures included stress hormones (corticosteroids) and epinephrine (adrenaline).
The study revealed that dogs have higher levels of arousal, colder noses and were generally more active in kennels than when they were at home.
The welfare of kennelled dogs is of concern, given that many experience minimal social contact, exercise and control over their environment as well as unpredictable and high levels of noise, novelty and disrupted routines.
Based on existing research it was assumed that dogs would show higher levels of stress in the kennel compared to the home environment.
The most widely used physiological indicator of canine welfare is urinary cortisol (hormone secreted following activation of one of the major stress response systems) and creatinine (chemical waste product created by the liver) ratios (C/Cr), which is considered a valid measure of acute and chronic stress in dogs. However, the reliability of this has been questioned.
The study revealed that C/Cr was significantly higher in the kennel compared to the home environment but cortisol levels have also been found to increase after exercise and excitement, and appear to provide an indication of arousal without specifying the emotional reason of that arousal.
The team recommends further investigation to determine the validity of measurements tested as indicators of acute and chronic stress in domestic dogs.
Professor David Morton, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham said: "The results from this work show that the measurement of stress is not straightforward and open to interpretation as arousal can occur for both positive as well as negative reasons. The partial validation of a ‘novel’ easy-to-measure marker – nose temperature, and its correlation with traditional physiological measurements – is important from a practical viewpoint. These results are interesting as will apply to dogs wherever they are in the world."
C.E. Part, J.L. Kiddie, W.A. Hayes, D.S.Mills, R.F. Neville, D.B.Morton, L.M. Collins ‘Physiological, physical and behavioural changes in dogs (Canis familiaris) when kennelled: Testing the validity of stress parameters’ Physiology & Behaviour DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.05.018
Professor David Morton, was Director of the Biomedical Service Unit, University of Birmingham from 1989 to 2006 and Head of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics, University of Birmingham. David is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham.
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