Stress is cool: skin temperature reveals the intensity of acute stress in hens

Acute stress triggers peripheral vasoconstriction, causing a rapid, short-term drop in skin temperature in homeotherms. We tested, for the first time, whether this response has the potential to quantify stress, by exhibiting proportionality with stressor intensity. We applied two handling stressors, of differing intensity (mild/moderate) to hens, and used infrared thermography (IRT) to non-invasively collect continuous temperature measurements.  In the comb and wattle, two skin regions with a known thermoregulatory role, stressor intensity predicted the extent of initial skin cooling, and also the occurrence of a more delayed skin warming, providing two opportunities to quantify stress. With the increasing availability of cost-effective IRT technology, this non-invasive and continuous method of stress assessment in unrestrained animals has the potential to become common practice in pure and applied research.

Authors of the research: Katherine A. Herborn, James L. Graves, Paul Jerem, Neil P. Evans, Ruedi Nager, Dominic J. McCafferty and Dorothy E.F. McKeegan

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