Restraint Stress

Whether we are talking about zoo animals or our own pets, blood collection usually involves restraint. Forcible restraint is a stressful experience (for dog and handler), it can produce a fearful response which often results in defensive aggression.

While the resulting behavior is what we see, there is also a complex biochemical cascade that accompanies the stress of compulsory restraint. Reinhardt compiles the documented changes in the normal values of:

1. Cortisol secretion in rhesus (Elvidge, Challis, Robinson, Roper, & Thorburn, 1976; Fuller, Hobson, Reyes, Winter, & Faiman, 1984; Hayashi & Moberg, 1987; Line, Markowitz, Morgan, & Strong, 1991; Puri, Puri, & Anand-Kumar, 1981) and Japanese macaques (Torii, Kitagawa, Nigi, & Ohsawa, 1993) as well as in capuchin monkeys (Dettmer, Phillips, Rager, Bernstein, & Fragaszy, 1996);

2. Progesterone secretion in baboons (Albrecht, Nightingale, & Townsley, 1978; Goncharov et al., 1979);

3. Testosterone secretion in rhesus macaques (Hayashi&Moberg, 1987; Puri, Puri, & Anand-Kumar, 1981) and baboons (Goncharov et al., 1979);

4. Adrenal androgen secretion in rhesus macaques (Fuller, Hobson, Reyes, Winter, & Faiman, 1984);

5. Prolactin secretion in rhesus macaques (Quadri, Pierson, & Spies, 1978);

6. Growth hormone secretion in rhesus macaques (Mason et al., 1968);

7. Follicle stimulating hormone secretion in rhesus macaques (Todd et al., 1999);

8. Glucagon secretion in squirrel monkeys (Myers, Mendoza, & Cornelius, 1988);

9. Glucose regulation in rhesus, stump-tailed (Streett & Jonas, 1982) and Celebes macaques (Yasuda, Wolff, & Howard, 1988);

10. Serum glutamic-oxalacetic transaminase activity in rhesus macaques (Cope & Polis, 1959);

11. Aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase activity in long-tailed macaques (Landi, Kissinger, Campbell, Kenney, & Jenkins, 1990);

12. White blood cell count in rhesus macaques (Ives & Dack, 1956; Loomis, Henrickson, & Anderson, 1980) and baboons (Goosen, Davies, Maree, & Dormehl, 1984);

13. Blood concentration in rhesus macaques (Loomis, Henrickson, & Anderson, 1980);

14. Blood pressure and heart rate in rhesus macaques (Golub & Anderson, 1986) and marmosets (Schnell & Wood, 1993);

15. Acid-base balance in squirrel monkeys (Manning, Lehner, Feldner,&Bullock, 1969) and Barbary and lion-tailed macaques (Bush, Custer, Smeller,& Bush, 1977); and

16. Respiration rate in rhesus and long-tailed macaques (Berendt & Williams, 1971).

In addition to all the changes compiled by Reinhardt, Muelas (1993) documents increased intestinal motility and Kreeger reports the following in foxes subjected to foothold traps:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Higher levels of adrenocorticotropin, β-endorphin, and cortisol
  • Lower levels of thyroxine and insulin
  • Higher levels of bilirubin, lactate dehydrogenase, alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
  • Neutrophilia
  • Leukopenia
  • Higher incidences of adrenal gland and kidney congestion as well as adrenal gland, lung, and heart hemorrhage

Reinhardt, Muelas (1993)

What it Means for You

In simple terms stressed out dog, a combative animal makes examination more difficult and reduces the reliability of diagnostic blood work.

Take sample variability as one example. With samples taken 15 minutes apart, Reinhardt (above) reports a mean difference of 68% in cortisol concentration and a mere 14% with samples taken with cooperative methods. The implications for diagnostic reliability are obvious.

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Another problem is that much of veterinary and human medical examination relies on hands-on body examinations. Palpation, and other tactile assessments are essential in clinical practice and come in handy in everything from detecting tumors to monitoring weight and pregnancies. And here too,  a combative patient reduces the reliability and effectiveness

A fearful response can’t be dominated away; you can’t “alpha” your dog out of it; and you cant jerk, kick, “bite”‘, jerk or “disagree “it away.

It is simple. If you have a pet that finds veterinary visits stressful, it is getting less that optimal care.But there is something you can do. With a little training, the right motivation and proper reinforcement you can turn a stressful, frightening experience into a rewarding and reinforcing activity.

There is one method that has been proven effective. It has helped in getting chimps to cooperate with ultrasound (Drews 2012), get cooperation from cats (Gooding 2012) as well as all manner or primates, cats, ungulates, marine mammals and reptiles, including the tortoises mentioned previously.

Click for Health.

Related links

Training a Tortoise to Help with Blood Work

Environmental Enrichment and the Behavioural Needs of Macaques Housed in Large Social Groups


Drews B, Harmann LM, Beehler LL, Bell B, Drews RF, Hildebrandt TB.(2012) Ultrasonographic monitoring of fetal development in unrestrained bonobos (Pan paniscus) at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  Zoo Biol. 2011 May-Jun;30(3):241-53. doi: 10.1002/zoo.20304. Epub 2010 Jan 13.

Gooding MA, Duncan IJ, Atkinson JL, Shoveller AK.(2012) Development and validation of a behavioral acclimation protocol for cats to respiration chambers used for indirect calorimetry studies.J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2012;15(2):144-62.

Muelas MS, Ramírez P, Parrilla P, Ruiz JM, Pérez JM, Candel MF, Aguilar J, Carrasco L. (1993)  Vagal system involvement in changes in small bowel motility during restraint stress: an experimental study in the dog. Br J Surg. 1993 Apr;80(4):479-83.

Kreeger TJ, White PJ, Seal US. and Tester JR. (1990) Pathological Responses of Red Foxes to Foothold Traps. The Journal of Wildlife Management Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan., 1990), pp. 147-160

Reinhardt V. (2003) Working With Rather Than Against Macaques During Blood Collection. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 6(3), 189-197



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