The Effect of Piglet Expulsion in the Sow on Plasma Cortisol, Adrenocorticotropic Hormone and β-endorphin

S. Jarvis*, A. B. Lawrence, K. A. Mclean, L. A. Deans, J. Chirnside, S. K. Calvert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contents Previous studies have shown an increase in plasma cortisol in gilts over farrowing irrespective of environment suggesting that factor(s) associated with parturition itself cause physiological stress. Factors involved in mediating the hypathalomo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis at parturition are not well understood. This study examines the effect of piglet expulsion on the pituitary-adrenal axis by measurement of plasma cortisol, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and β-endorphin. The effect of farrowing environment in modulating the acute response to piglet expulsion is also investigated. Twelve second parity sows, with indwelling jugular catheters, were moved into either a farrowing crate or a straw-bedded pen 5 days before their expected parturition date (EPD). Blood samples were taken from each sow during a prefarrowing baseline period and then rapid samples (2.5 mins) were taken for 10min following the birth of two piglets. No effect of environment was found on any of the hormonal variables which reinforces the hypothesis that the physiological stress seen in parturient pigs is due to some intrinsic factor of parturition. Plasma cortisol, ACTH and β-endorphin did not change significantly in the period following piglet expulsion suggesting that individual piglet expulsions do not play a major role in 'parturition stress'. There was however, an increase in plasma cortisol, ACTH and β-endorphin in response to increasing piglet number which is consistent with previous studies of general farrowing in which cortisol increased as farrowing progressed. Therefore this study reinforces the hypothesis that physiological stress increases with ongoing parturition although this does not appear to be a result of piglet expulsion. The potential role of other factors which may be involved in causing 'parturition stress' should be investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-94
Number of pages6
JournalReproduction in Domestic Animals
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 1999
Externally publishedYes


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