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Faecal Cortisol Metabolites as an Indicator of Adrenocortical Activity in Farmed Blue Foxes

Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki, 00790 Helsinki, Finland
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Itäinen Pitkäkatu 4 A, 20520 Turku, Finland
Department of Animal and Aquacultural Sciences, Faculty of Biosciences, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 5003, NO-1432 Ås, Norway
Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinärplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Halolantie 31 A, 71750 Maaninka, Finland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Laura Graham
Animals 2021, 11(9), 2631;
Received: 1 July 2021 / Revised: 29 August 2021 / Accepted: 2 September 2021 / Published: 7 September 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Physiology)
The measurement of faecal cortisol metabolites (FCMs) is increasingly used to monitor physiological stress responses in different animal species. Before this method is applied in coming stress- and welfare-related studies of farmed blue foxes (Vulpes lagopus), a species-specific validation is first required. In the current study, a 5α-pregnane-3ß,11ß,21-triol-20-one enzyme immunoassay was found suited to measure FCMs and thus hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity in farmed blue foxes. FCMs can therefore serve as a valid indicator of stress in future welfare studies of blue foxes.
Welfare studies of blue foxes would benefit from a measurement of faecal cortisol metabolites (FCMs) as a non-invasive, physiological stress parameter reflecting hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity. Before implementation, a species-specific validation of such a method is required. Therefore, we conducted a physiological validation of an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to measure FCMs in blue foxes. Twenty individuals (nine males and eleven females) were injected with synthetic adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and faecal samples were collected every third h for two days. The FCM baseline levels were assessed based on the first sampling day (control period, 144 samples), followed by the ACTH injection and the second day of sampling (treatment period, 122 samples). FCMs were analysed with a 5α-pregnane-3ß,11ß,21-triol-20-one EIA. We compared the estimated mean FCM concentrations of the treatment samples to the baseline average. All samples for the two periods were collected at the same time of the day, which enabled to test the data also with an hourly pairwise comparison. With the two statistical approaches, we tested whether a possible diurnal fluctuation in the FCM concentrations affected the interpretation of the results. Compared to the baseline levels, both approaches showed 2.4–3.2 times higher concentrations on time points sampled 8–14 h after the ACTH injection (p < 0.05). The estimated FCM concentrations also fluctuated slightly within the control period (p < 0.01). Inter-individual variations in FCM levels were marked, which highlights the importance of having a sufficient number of animals in experiments utilising FCMs. The sampling intervals of 3 h enabled forming of informative FCM curves. Taken together, this study proves that FCM analysis with a 5α-pregnane-3ß,11ß,21-triol-20-one EIA is a valid measurement of adrenocortical activity in the farmed blue foxes. Therefore, it can be utilised as a non-invasive stress indicator in future animal welfare studies of the species. View Full-Text
Keywords: faecal glucocorticoid metabolites; Vulpes lagopus faecal glucocorticoid metabolites; Vulpes lagopus
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MDPI and ACS Style

Ojala, E.A.; Kurkilahti, M.; Hovland, A.L.; Palme, R.; Mononen, J. Faecal Cortisol Metabolites as an Indicator of Adrenocortical Activity in Farmed Blue Foxes. Animals 2021, 11, 2631.

AMA Style

Ojala EA, Kurkilahti M, Hovland AL, Palme R, Mononen J. Faecal Cortisol Metabolites as an Indicator of Adrenocortical Activity in Farmed Blue Foxes. Animals. 2021; 11(9):2631.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Ojala, Eeva A., Mika Kurkilahti, Anne L. Hovland, Rupert Palme, and Jaakko Mononen. 2021. "Faecal Cortisol Metabolites as an Indicator of Adrenocortical Activity in Farmed Blue Foxes" Animals 11, no. 9: 2631.

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