Lee, G.-H., Jo, W., Kang, T.-K. et al. 2023. Assessment of stress caused by environmental changes for improving the welfare of laboratory beagle dogs. Animals 13(6), 1095.
Animal stress is influenced by environmental factors, yet only a few studies have evaluated the effects of environmental stress on captive dogs. This study aimed to evaluate the effects of environmental and social enrichment on the stress levels of captive dogs housed in a lab. We assessed stress levels in eight Beagle dogs by measuring their body weight, cortisol levels, a stress hormone, the alkaline phosphatase activity in serum, the number of steps per hour, as well as clinical sign observations in a changed environment for 6 weeks. Four dogs assigned to a control group were raised alone in a relatively narrow place without toys; four dogs assigned to an experimental group were raised together in a relatively large place with toys. The body weight of the control group remained unchanged, while that of the experimental group decreased. Cortisol levels in the control group increased throughout, whereas those in the experimental group increased for up to 2 weeks and decreased thereafter. Consequently, cortisol levels in the experimental group significantly decreased compared to the control group at 6 weeks (p = 0.048). Fighting was observed among the dogs in the experimental group at 3 weeks; thus, one dog was separated from the group. The number of steps per hour was more than twice as high in the experimental than in the control group. Thereby, we determined that social housing, with appropriate companions and environmental enrichment materials, can reduce stress levels in captive dogs more efficiently than in single housing without such materials. Our study provides useful insights for captive animal organizations, such as kenneled dogs’ management, to improve animal welfare.