THE MEDICAL SIDE OF TRANSPORTING ANIMALS & STRESS
Non handled animals that have been transported often may have baseline cortisol levels and be behaviorally calm, whereas extensively reared animals may have elevated cortisol levels in the same situation if they have never been transported. Transportation is perceived as neutral and non-threatening to one animal; to another animal, the novelty of it may trigger intense fear.
Novelty is a strong stressor when an animal is suddenly confronted with it. In the wild, novelty and strange sights or sounds are often a sign of danger. Gradual exposure of animals to novel experiences enables them to become accustomed to non-painful stimuli that had previously evoked a flight reaction.
Tame animals that are accustomed to frequent handling and close contact with people are usually less stressed by restraint and handling than animals that seldom see people.
Although the word STRESS generally has adverse connotations, stress is a familiar aspect of life – a stimulant for some, a burden for others. Numerous definitions have been proposed for stress. An integrated definition states that stress is a constellation of events including a stimulus (stressor), a reaction in the brain precipitated by the stimulus (stress perception), and an activation of the body’s physiological fight or flight systems (stress rseponse). Transportation stressors can by physical (changes in temperature, humidity or noise), physiological (limitation of access to food and water), and psychological (exposure to novel individuals or environments).
It is important to recognize that stress does not always have adverse consequences, and it is often overlooked that a stress response has healthful and adaptive effects.
Stress can be harmful when it is long-lasting and animals are unable to adapt successfully to it; therefore, an important distinguishing characteristic of stress is its duration. Acute stress is defined as stress that lasts for minutes, hours or a few days; and chronic stress as stress that persits for months or years.
Most transportation events last only a few days and are considered acute stress events. Even the transportation of animals from overseas does not take more than a few days, so there is little concern about chronic stress during transportation. However, care must be taken to minimize post-trip stress in order to ensure that animals are not chronically stressed.
A main issue of concern during transportation is an animal’s psychological experience. Normally, animals live in a uniform, familiar environment; during transport, almost every aspect of their environment changes. The transporation enclosure, motion, human handling, temperature, light and perhaps social group mates, odors, sounds, floor surface, food and water availability, vibrations, unusual gravitational forces (such as during acceleration, braking or turning the vehicle), and factors all change from moment to moment.
That change in multiple sensory experiences will be perceived as stressful, even under the best of conditions, for two major psychological reasons: the transporation experience is not part of the normal routine, and the animal has no control of the situation. Stress during transportation is unavoidable, so the optimal conditions for moving animals from one location to another would be those that minimize the intensity and duration of excessive stress. The goal is to make the transportation experience as predictable as is practically possible.
An animal’s experience can greatly effect its response to the transporation environment. Animals preconditioned to transportation by being exposed to the transportation container before the handling associated with transportation can help animals to respond better to the transportation experience. Animals that have been socialized with people and have been handled respond more favorably to the handling associated with transportation than those not similarly exposed. In many cases, preconditioning animals to handling already occurs as part of routine husbandry procedures.
The behavior of animals is probably the most important tool available to trasporters handling animals during all stages of their journey.
(1) “Food for Thought” – Transporting & Handling Animals
Department of Animal Science
Colorado State University
(2) “The Science of Stress” – Transporting & Handling Animals
The National Center for Biotechnology In
National Research Council (US) Commmittee on Guidelines for the humane transportation of Laboratory Animals
(3) “The Medical Side of Stress in Transported Animals”
Dept of Pre Clinical Veterinary Science
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
(4) USDA/APHIS Animal