Murid stress odours: a review and a ‘low tech’ method of collection.
Stress cues can affect the welfare of animals in close proximity and are possibly useful non-invasive indicators of the emitters’ welfare. To facilitate their study in murids, we tested whether rats’ stress odours could be collected and stored using an enfleurage-type technique. ‘Donor’ rats were individually exposed to a compound stressor (carried circa 75 m inside a novel container, then euthanised with rising carbon dioxide) while on blotting paper dotted with melted vegetable lard. These sheets were sealed, left at room temperature for 2–5 h, and then ‘bioassayed’ by a blind observer for their effects on conspecifics. Compared with control sheets (exposed to unstressed rats, to CO2 alone, or untreated), stress exposed sheets significantly affected the unconditioned behaviour of 16 pairs of detector rats trained to enter an arena from their home cage to obtain sucrose. When used to line this arena, the stress-exposed sheets significantly increased: i) rats’ latencies to eat, to place front feet into, and to completely step into the arena and ii) shuttling movements between arena and home cage. These pilot data thus suggest that odours produced by stressed rats can be simply and successfully collected and stored for several hours, though certain potential confounds (eg urine volume) may conceivably be alternative explanations for the observed effects. Future work should control for urine volume, and assess whether fat is needed for optimal odour absorption by paper and for how long sheets can be stored at various temperatures. Much fundamental work is also still needed on the nature, functions, and sources of stress odours.