Szenczi, P., Jiménez Gallardo, A., Urrutia, A. et al. 2023. Non-invasive, real-time stress measurement: Vocalization compared with thermal imaging in kittens of the domestic cat in response to social separation. Behavioural Processes 213, 104955.

Finding tools to assess the stress response which can be easily applied, are non-invasive, reliable and measured in real time is still a relevant topic in many areas of biology. Vocal characteristics and temperature of certain body areas have been suggested to reflect HPA axis and ANS activation. We hypothesized that changes in vocalizations and peripheral body temperature will show the magnitude of the stress response, and that the change in these will covary. Our aim was to measure the change in vocal characteristics and eye and nasal temperature of kittens (n = 43 from nine litters of seven mixed-breed mothers) during a potentially stressful event and to test how these correlated. We found change in several vocal and thermal parameters during a short social separation. Our findings indicate that arousal due to ANS activation in kittens of the domestic cat resulted in an increasing number of vocalisations of longer duration and higher intensity, and in lower and a wider range in fundamental frequency. Calls also became less tonal with more jitter. Change in temperature was generally negative in the lacrimal caruncle as well as in the rhinarium, but with great variance across individuals. Change in eye temperature positively correlated with the intensity of the calls and the change in nose temperature positively correlated with the change in call length. The results suggest the continued difficulty in interpreting both physiological and behavioural data to assess an individual´s stress response.

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