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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2013

Stress measures in tail biters and bitten pigs in a matched case-control study

Munsterhjelm, Camilla; Brunberg, Emma; Heinonen, Mari; Keeling, Linda; Valros, Anna


This study aimed to identify differences in stress measures in pigs (Sus scrofa) with different roles during a tail-biting outbreak. Quartets (n = 16) of age- and gender-matched fattening pigs including a tail biter (TB; n = 16), a victim (V; n = 16), a control in the same pen (C-tb; n = 10), and one in a pen without tail biting (C-no; n = 14) were chosen by direct behavioural observation. Stress measures used were behaviour (dog-sitting, sniffing of pen-mates and aggression), thyroid hormone concentration, morphology of adrenal and thyroid glands and salivary cortisol concentration sampled at 0700, 1000, 1600 and 1900h. Category (TB, V, C-tb, C-no) effects were investigated using a mixed model with replicate as subject and category as repeated effect. Category had a significant effect on adrenal total (cortex + medulla) and cortical area, salivary cortisol at 1900h, serum triiodothyronine (T3) and the behaviours performing and receiving sniffing. Victims suffered from a triad of chronic stress, pathology and suppressed T3 secretion. Evidence for stress in tail biters, a possible cause of the behaviour, consisted of a slightly flattened day-time cortisol pattern and more performed sniffing than all other categories. Differences in evening cortisol concentration and T3 levels between the categories in the pen with ongoing tail biting emphasise the qualities of the control animal. It supports the view that neutral pigs represent a phenotype that adopts a coping strategy leading to lower stress levels than in tail biters and victims, despite being housed in the same pen.


adrenal; animal welfare; injurious behaviour; physiology; swine; thyroid

Published in

Animal Welfare
2013, Volume: 22, number: 3, pages: 331-338