Kovács, L., Kézér, F. L., Bodó, S. et al. 2021. Salivary cortisol as a non-invasive approach to assess stress in dystocic dairy calves. Scientific Reports 11(1), 6200.
The intensity and the magnitude of saliva cortisol responses were investigated during the first 48 h following birth in newborn dairy calves which underwent normal (eutocic, EUT, n = 88) and difficult (dystocic, DYS, n = 70) calvings. The effects of parity and body condition of the dam, the duration of parturition, the time spent licking the calf, the sex and birth weight of the calf were also analyzed. Neonatal salivary cortisol concentrations were influenced neither by factors related to the dam (parity, body condition) nor the calf (sex, birth weight). The duration of parturition and the time spent licking the calf also had no effect on salivary cortisol levels. Salivary cortisol concentrations increased rapidly after delivery in both groups to reach their peak levels at 45 and 60 min after delivery in EUT and DYS calves, respectively supporting that the birth process means considerable stress for calves and the immediate postnatal period also appears to be stressful for newborn calves. DYS calves exhibited higher salivary cortisol concentrations compared to EUT ones for 0 (P = 0.022), 15 (P = 0.016), 30 (P = 0.007), 45 (P = 0.003), 60 (P = 0.001) and 120 min (P = 0.001), and for 24 h (P = 0.040), respectively. Peak levels of salivary cortisol and the cortisol release into saliva calculated as AUC were higher in DYS than in EUT calves for the 48-h of the sampling period (P = 0.009 and P = 0.003, respectively). The greater magnitude of saliva cortisol levels in DYS calves compared to EUT ones suggest that difficult parturition means severe stress for bovine neonates and salivary cortisol could be an opportunity for non-invasive assessment of stress during the early neonatal period in cattle.