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MT17-017: Using novel, non-invasive measures of chronic stress in cats to determine levels of stress hormone in the hair and nails of cats

Chronic stress, indicative of poor animal welfare and suffering, can lead to physical illness, immune compromise, and problematic behaviors in cats. Unfortunately, chronic stress is often unacknowledged or undiagnosed as contributing to cat suffering or illness. When stress occurs, the body secretes the hormone, cortisol, which can be measured in blood, saliva, urine, and feces. However, cortisol in blood and saliva, or urine and feces, reflects the body’s response within the past minutes to 24 hours, respectively, whereas evaluation of chronic stress requires cortisol measurement over a long period of time. Cortisol accumulates in hair and nails over a span of weeks to months, so hair and nail cortisol concentrations are promising new measures of chronic stress in humans and animals. Three previous cat studies used a technique called radio-immunoassay (RIA) to measure cat hair cortisol concentration; cat nail cortisol has not yet been evaluated. In this study, the investigators will gently trim nails and two small patches of hair from cats and will show that cat nail and hair cortisol can be measured by the enzyme immunoassay (EIA) technique, which has been used to measure hair and nail cortisol in other species. Based on some studies, nails might provide a more precise measure of cortisol than hair, and conveniently, cat nails are trimmed during regular cat care. If successful, this would provide veterinarians with a simple, accurate way to measure and diagnose chronic stress in cats, with the ultimate goal of helping to alleviate the suffering of chronically stressed cats.

Grant ID: MT17-017

Status: Active

Year Funded: 2017

Amount awarded: $11,484

Investigator: Elena Contreras, DVM, MS, Michael Lappin, DVM, PhD, DACVIM; Colorado State University