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Behavioural, endocrine and immune responses to repeated social stress in pregnant gilts

Abstract : Pregnant sows are exposed to various stressors in intensive pig husbandry that may have negative consequences on their health, reproductive performances and welfare. Social stress is one of these challenges, because gestating sows have to be housed in groups according to EU guidelines (2001/88/CE). The purpose of this study was to determine the consequences of repeated social stress in pregnant female pigs on their behavioural, endocrine and immunological responses and on pregnancy outcome. Pregnant gilts were submitted to a repeated social stress procedure induced by housing unfamiliar gilts in pairs changed twice a week between days 77 and 105 of gestation (S group, n = 18). Control gilts were housed in stable pairs during the same period (C group, n = 18). Agonistic behaviour was observed during the first 3 h after each grouping. Skin lesions were numbered 2 h after each grouping. Salivary cortisol was measured before and repeatedly during the 4 weeks of grouping. Gilts were immunized against keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH) on days 81 and 95 of gestation. Immunoglobulins G against KLH, proliferative responses to concanavalin A, lipopolysaccharide, pokeweed mitogen and KLH and peripheral blood leukocyte numbers were evaluated 1 week before the first grouping and 3 days after the last one. Agonistic interactions and skin lesions were observed in S gilts at each grouping, although there was a decline between the first and the last grouping (P < 0.05). The repeated social stress induced a sustained endocrine response as shown by elevated salivary cortisol levels from 1 to 48 h after grouping in S gilts compared to C gilts. The cellular as well as the humoral immunity and the leukocyte numbers were not influenced by social stress. Gestation length tended to be shorter in S gilts (P = 0.09), but litter size, piglet weight or mortality at birth were not affected. Variability of the response of S gilts to groupings was partly explained by their average success value determined according to the outcome (defeat or win) of all the groupings. In conclusion, our study demonstrates that the application of repeated social stress to pregnant gilts during the last third of their gestation repeatedly activates their hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis but does not impair their immune function and pregnancy outcome.
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David Couret, Wilfred Otten, B. Puppe, Armelle Prunier, Elodie Merlot. Behavioural, endocrine and immune responses to repeated social stress in pregnant gilts. Animal, Published by Elsevier (since 2021) / Cambridge University Press (until 2020), 2009, 3 (1), pp.118-127. ⟨10.1017/S1751731108003236⟩. ⟨hal-02663422⟩

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