Sutherland, M. A., Worth, G. M., Dowling, S. K. et al. 2020. Evaluation of infrared thermography as a non-invasive method of measuring the autonomic nervous response in sheep. PLoS ONE 15(5): e0233558.
Eye temperature measured using infrared thermography (IRT) can be used as a non-invasive measure of autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity in cattle. The objective of this study was to evaluate if changes in eye temperature (measured using IRT) can be used to non-invasively measure ANS activity in sheep. Twenty, 2 to 4-year-old, Romney ewes were randomly assigned to receive either epinephrine (EPI) or physiological saline (SAL) for 5 min administered via jugular catheter (n = 10 ewes/treatment). Eye temperature (°C) was recorded continuously using IRT for approximately 25 min before and 20 min after the start of infusion. Heart rate and heart rate variability, measured using the root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD) and the standard deviation of all inter-beat intervals (SDNN), were recorded for 5 min before and up to 10 min after the start of infusion. Blood samples were taken before and after the infusion period to measure plasma epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol and packed cell volume (PCV) concentrations. During the infusion period, maximum eye temperature was on average higher (P<0.05) in sheep that received epinephrine than those that received saline. On average, heart rate was higher (SAL: 87.5 beats/min, EPI: 123.2 beats/min, SED = 7.07 beats/min; P<0.05), and RMSSD (SAL: 55.3 ms, EPI: 17.3 ms, SED = 14.18 ms) and SDNN (SAL: 54.3 ms, EPI: 21.5 ms, SED = 10.00 ms) lower (P<0.05) in ewes during the 5 min post-infusion period compared with ewes that received saline. An infusion of epinephrine resulted in higher geometric mean epinephrine (P<0.05) and cortisol (P<0.05) but not norepinephrine (P>0.05) concentrations in ewes compared to an infusion of saline. PCV concentrations were higher (P<0.001) by 7 ± 1.0% (mean±SED) in ewes after an epinephrine infusion. These results suggest that heart rate variability is a sensitive, non-invasive method that can be used to measure ANS activity in sheep, whereas change in eye temperature measured using IRT is a less sensitive method.