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. 2013 Jan 7;9:3.
doi: 10.1186/1746-6148-9-3.

Plasma Cortisol and Faecal Cortisol Metabolites Concentrations in Stereotypic and Non-Stereotypic Horses: Do Stereotypic Horses Cope Better With Poor Environmental Conditions?

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Plasma Cortisol and Faecal Cortisol Metabolites Concentrations in Stereotypic and Non-Stereotypic Horses: Do Stereotypic Horses Cope Better With Poor Environmental Conditions?

Carole Fureix et al. BMC Vet Res. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Background: Stereotypic behaviours, i.e. repetitive behaviours induced by frustration, repeated attempts to cope and/or brain dysfunction, are intriguing as they occur in a variety of domestic and captive species without any clear adaptive function. Among the different hypotheses, the coping hypothesis predicts that stereotypic behaviours provide a way for animals in unfavourable environmental conditions to adjust. As such, they are expected to have a lower physiological stress level (glucocorticoids) than non-stereotypic animals. Attempts to link stereotypic behaviours with glucocorticoids however have yielded contradictory results. Here we investigated correlates of oral and motor stereotypic behaviours and glucocorticoid levels in two large samples of domestic horses (NStudy1 = 55, NStudy2 = 58), kept in sub-optimal conditions (e.g. confinement, social isolation), and already known to experience poor welfare states. Each horse was observed in its box using focal sampling (study 1) and instantaneous scan sampling (study 2). Plasma samples (collected in study 1) but also non-invasive faecal samples (collected in both studies) were retrieved in order to assess cortisol levels.

Results: Results showed that 1) plasma cortisol and faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations did not differ between horses displaying stereotypic behaviours and non-stereotypic horses and 2) both oral and motor stereotypic behaviour levels did not predict plasma cortisol or faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations.

Conclusions: Cortisol measures, collected in two large samples of horses using both plasma sampling as well as faecal sampling (the latter method minimizing bias due to a non-invasive sampling procedure), therefore do not indicate that stereotypic horses cope better, at least in terms of adrenocortical activity.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Plasma cortisol concentrations (ng/mL) function of oral (A) and motor (B) stereotypic behaviours frequencies in horses from riding schools (study 1, N = 55). Plasma cortisol concentrations were assessed two times per horse (between 18:00 and 19:00) and averaged. Original data are presented for clarity (plasma cortisol concentrations were Box Cox-transformed and stereotypic behaviours were log-transformed for analysis). Neither oral nor motor stereotypic behaviours frequencies predicted plasma cortisol concentrations (respectively F 1, 48 = 1.11, P = 0.30 and F 1, 48 = 0.86, P = 0.36).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations (ng/g) function of oral (A) and motor (B) stereotypic behaviours frequencies in horses from riding schools (study 1, N = 55). Samples were collected between 12:00 and 13:00, three times per subject: a sample on two different days, each 24 h after a day’s work and one sample 24 h after a day’s rest, then averaged. Original data are presented for clarity (data were log-transformed for analysis). Neither oral nor motor stereotypic behaviours frequencies predicted faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations (respectively F 1, 46 = 0.52, P = 0.47 and F 1, 49 = 0.23, P = 0.64).
Figure 3
Figure 3
Faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations (ng/g) function of number of scans in which a stereotypic behaviour was observed in Arab mares (study 2, N = 58). Samples were collected between 08:00 and 10:00. Original data are presented for clarity (data were log transformed for analysis). The number of scans in which a stereotypic behaviour was observed did not predict faecal cortisol metabolites concentrations (F 1, 47 = 0.003, P = 0.96).

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