van der Laan, J. E., Vinke, C. M., Arndt, S. S. 2022. Evaluation of hair cortisol as an indicator of long-term stress responses in dogs in an animal shelter and after subsequent adoption. Scientific Reports 12(1), 5117.
Shelter dogs are exposed to a variety of stressors. Among non-invasive techniques, hair cortisol concentration (HCC) is suggested an easy to collect biomarker for giving insight into long-term stress responses. We evaluated HCC as an indicator of long-term cortisol responses in dogs in an animal shelter over different chronological time points during sheltering and after adoption. Hair samples were collected from the neck region following a shave/re-shave protocol of shelter dogs (total n = 52) at four different time periods: T1 intake at shelter (pre-shelter period, n = 51); T2 after 6 weeks in the shelter (n = 23); T3 6 weeks after adoption (n = 24); T4 6 months after adoption (n = 22). HCC at T2 was significantly higher than HCC at T1, T3 and T4 (effect of sample collection moment: F3,41 = 12.78, p < 0.0001). The dog’s weight class, age class, sex, reason for admission, kennel history and melanin type also explained HCC variability. No significant difference in HCC was found between shelter dogs T1 and control pet dogs in their own homes (n = 20, one sample, t = − 1.24, p = 0.219). A significant but moderate positive correlation between HCC and urinary cortisol:creatinine ratios was found (т = 0.3, p < 0.001). As HCC increased in the shelter, the use of this non-invasive parameter appears a useful additional tool in dog welfare research.