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Objective—To determine whether a program of human interaction or alterations in diet composition would alter activity of the hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal (HPA) axis in dogs housed in an animal shelter.

Design—Prospective study.

Animals—40 dogs.

Procedure—Dogs were (n = 20) or were not (20) enrolled in a program of regular supplemental human interaction (20 min/d, 5 d/wk, for 8 weeks) involving stroking, massaging, and behavioral training. In addition, half the dogs in each group were fed a typical maintenance-type diet, and the other half were fed a premium diet. Plasma cortisol and ACTH concentrations were measured during weeks 0, 2, 4, and 8 and before and after exposure to a battery of novel situations during weeks 0 and 8.

Results—Plasma cortisol concentration was significantly decreased by week 2, but plasma ACTH concentration was not significantly decreased until week 8 and then only in dogs fed the premium diet. Following exposure to novel situations, plasma cortisol and ACTH concentrations were significantly increased. However, during week 8, dogs enrolled in the program of human interaction had significantly lower increases in cortisol concentration than did dogs not enrolled in the program.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that both a program of human interaction and alterations in diet composition have moderating effects on activity of the HPA axis in dogs housed in an animal shelter and that activity of the HPA axis may be increased for a longer period during shelter housing than measurement of plasma cortisol concentration alone would suggest. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;221:65–71)

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in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association