Effects of thermal environment on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones, oxytocin, and behavioral activity in periparturient sows

Malmkvist, J.; Damgaard, B.M.; Pedersen, L.J.; Jorgensen, E.; Thodberg, K.; Chaloupkova, H.; Bruckmaier, R.M. (2009). Effects of thermal environment on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hormones, oxytocin, and behavioral activity in periparturient sows. Journal of animal science, 87(9), pp. 2796-805. Savoy, Ill.: American Society of Animal Science 10.2527/jas.2008-1592

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Provision of additional floor heating (33 to 34 degrees C) at birth and during the early postnatal hours is favorable for newborn piglets of domestic sows (Sus scrofa). We investigated whether this relatively high temperature influenced sow behavior and physiology around farrowing. One-half of 28 second-parity pregnant sows were randomly chosen to be exposed to floor heating 12 h after onset of nest building and until 48 h after birth of the first piglet (heat treatment), whereas the rest of the sows entered the control group (control treatment) with no floor heating. Hourly blood sampling from 8 h before and until 24 h after the birth of the first piglet was used for investigation of temporal changes in plasma concentrations of oxytocin, cortisol, and ACTH. In addition, occurrence and duration of sow postures were recorded -8 to +48 h relative to the birth of the first piglet. There was a clear temporal development in sow behavior and hormone concentrations (ACTH, cortisol, and oxytocin) across parturition (P < 0.001), independent of treatment. In general, hormone concentrations increased from the start to the end of farrowing. The observed oxytocin increase and peak late in farrowing coincided with the passive phase where sows lie laterally with an overall reduced activity. Floor heating increased the mean concentration of cortisol (P = 0.02; estimated as 29% greater than in controls) and tended to increase the mean concentration of ACTH (P = 0.08; estimated as 17% greater than in controls), but we did not find any treatment effect on mean oxytocin concentrations, the course of parturition, or the behavior of sows. Behavioral thermoregulation may, however, have lost some function for the sows because the floor was fully heated in our study. In addition, exposure to heat decreased the between-sow variation of plasma oxytocin (approximately 31% less relative to control) and ACTH (approximately 46% less relative to control). Whether this decreased variation may be indicative of acute stress or linked to other biological events is unclear. In conclusion, inescapable floor heating (around 33.5 degrees C) may be considered a stressor for sows around farrowing, giving rise to elevated plasma concentrations of cortisol, but without concurrent changes in oxytocin or behavioral activity.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Clinical Research and Veterinary Public Health (DCR-VPH) > Veterinary Physiology

UniBE Contributor:

Bruckmaier, Rupert




American Society of Animal Science




Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 15:25

Last Modified:

21 Jan 2014 15:05

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:



https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/38380 (FactScience: 221256)

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