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  • Author or Editor: Michael B. Hennessy x
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Objective—To describe changes in WBC counts, plasma cortisol concentration, and fecal parasite shedding of dogs housed in an animal shelter and determine the effects of daily petting sessions on these variables.

Design—Hybrid prospective observational and experimental study.

Animals—92 healthy dogs newly arrived to an animal shelter and 15 healthy privately owned dogs (control group).

Procedures—Blood and fecal samples were collected from shelter dogs 1, 3, and 10 days after arrival and from control dogs once. A subset of shelter dogs (n = 15) was assigned to receive 30 minutes of petting daily. Plasma cortisol concentration was measured, CBCs were performed, and fecal samples were evaluated for parasite ova.

Results—For shelter dogs, total leukocyte, neutrophil, and lymphocyte counts increased significantly between days 1 and 10, with less consistent increases in monocyte count and neutrophil-to-lymphocyte count ratio. Parasite shedding was unaffected by duration of shelter stay but was greater for shelter versus control dogs. For shelter dogs, plasma cortisol concentration decreased with time and was higher than that of control dogs on each day. Total leukocyte, neutrophil, and monocyte counts and neutrophil-to-lymphocyte count ratios were also higher for shelter versus control dogs. Petting sessions resulted in a decrease in plasma cortisol concentration but in no other variables.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Large increasing immunologic responses, heavy parasite shedding, and high but decreasing plasma cortisol concentration were identified in shelter dogs. Daily 30-minute petting sessions affected only cortisol values, so the clinical importance of petting for immunologic and other health outcomes remains unclear.

Full access
in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association


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