Skin temperature reveals the intensity of acute stress

Katherine A. Herborn*, James L. Graves, Paul Jerem, Neil P. Evans, Ruedi Nager, Dominic J. McCafferty, Dorothy E.F. McKeegan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Acute stress triggers peripheral vasoconstriction, causing a rapid, short-term drop in skin temperature in homeotherms. We tested, for the first time, whether this response has the potential to quantify stress, by exhibiting proportionality with stressor intensity. We used established behavioural and hormonal markers: activity level and corticosterone level, to validate a mild and more severe form of an acute restraint stressor in hens (Gallus gallus domesticus). We then used infrared thermography (IRT) to non-invasively collect continuous temperature measurements following exposure to these two intensities of acute handling stress. In the comb and wattle, two skin regions with a known thermoregulatory role, stressor intensity predicted the extent of initial skin cooling, and also the occurrence of a more delayed skin warming, providing two opportunities to quantify stress. With the present, cost-effective availability of IRT technology, this non-invasive and continuous method of stress assessment in unrestrained animals has the potential to become common practice in pure and applied research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-230
Number of pages6
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal welfare
  • Corticosterone
  • Stress-induced hyperthermia
  • Thermal imaging


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