Applicability of cortisol in hair of pigs as a long term indicator of stress for on-site evaluation of animal welfare on pig farms

  • Aerts, Johan (Project Manager)
  • Bos, Emilie-Julie (Former Researcher)
  • Van Riet, Miriam (Former Researcher)

    Project Details


    Main research question/goal
    The main objective of this project is to investigate whether cortisol in hair of pigs is a valuable biomarker for chronic stress. This forms the foundation for the future development of a biosensor which can be used on farms or in slaughter houses for a quick, easy and cheap way to determine cortisol in the hair of pigs. Cortisol is generally accepted as an universal biomarker for stress. The prevalent matrices in which it is determined are mostly interfering with the result (blood), or hard or even impossible to collect (feces, urine, saliva). Hair (of pigs) as a matrix is easy and non-invasive to sample. Hence it is possible to evaluate animal welfare over an extended period of time in an objective, animal-friendly but also logistically and financially feasible way on a large scale.

    Research approach
    Hair of pigs will be analyzed using UPLC-MS/MS in order to determine the amount of cortisol. After a chemical validation hair samples of pigs from different farms will be analyzed in order to validate the method biologically. Among these samples there are also samples from animals with paw problems which leads to an elevated stress level and hence to a higher amount of cortisol. Finally we evaluate the specific applicability of cortisol in hair as a valuable biomarker for chronic stress in pigs.

    The consortium sees an important added value and scientific potential in the use of cortisol in hair as a biomarker for chronic stress in pigs. The analysis of large amounts of samples at farms in a relative short span of time will be possible in the near future A single hair sample collected on site should make it possible to determine the long-term animal welfare on a farm. This can possibly form the foundation for a well supported decision strategy to evaluate animal welfare on farms.

    Funding provider(s)
    FOD Volksgezondheid, Veiligheid van de voedselketen en Leefmilieu
    ILVO - Instituut voor Landbouw-, Visserij- en voedingsonderzoek

    External partner(s)
    UGent - Fac. Farmaceutische Wetenschappen
    Effective start/end date1/05/1331/10/14