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Stress levels in sheltered cows in India

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Hyderabad : Checking for physiological stress levels in animals usually involves checking for hormones in blood, saliva, urine or faeces. Procuring these samples can be invasive, making them difficult for studying animals on field. Also they give data only from a single point of time. Using hair
cortisol levels as a marker for stress levels in animals is increasingly being used in veterinary researchers. The method is painless for the animal and more reliable than the other available techniques in measuring long term stress. Cortisol, a lipid-based hormone, is known to be released under physiological stress conditions. Because of the hair sebum’s affinity for lipids, the circulating cortisol gets accumulated in the hair shaft over time.

In a recently published study by researchers Dr G.Umapathy and Dr Vinod Kumar at CSIR- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad Dr Arvind Sharma at Himachal Veterinary University in India, and Prof Clive Phillips University at Queensland, Australia they show high cortisol levels in hair samples of 549 non-lactating cows of a median age 11 years from 54 shelters across India. They investigated the correlation between hair ortisol levels in these cows with the living conditions of the cows in these cow shelters. The results of the study suggest that cows in these shelters suffer chronic stress due to the health and management issues such as old age, low quality feeding practices, less area/cow, improper flooring and cleanliness. This study is published in the journal Animals. These findings open up possibilities of animal welfare based reforms in designing animal
shelters and managing them scientifically. These are important for a country like India with the policy of retiring abandoned and non-lactating cows in shelters without clear welfare policies.

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