Non-invasive stress assessment in male and female rats using infrared thermography
We used Infrared thermography (IRT) to collect continuous tail and eye temperature measurements of male and female rats (Rattus norvegicus), for 30 minutes after exposure to one of three stressors (small cage, encircling handling or rodent restraint cone) for one minute, and cross-validated the thermal response with plasma corticosterone (CORT) and behavioural assessment. To obtain individual baseline temperatures and thermal responses to stress, rats were imaged in a test arena (to which they were habituated) for 30 seconds before and 30 minutes after being exposed to the stressor. In response to the three stressors, tail temperature initially decreased and then recovered to, or overshot the baseline temperature. Tail temperature dynamics differed between stressors; being restrained in the small cage was associated with the smallest drop in temperature, in male rats, and the fastest thermal recovery, in both sexes. Increases in eye temperature only distinguished between stressors early in the response and only in females. The post stressor increase in eye temperature was greater in the right eye of males and the left eye of females. In both sexes encircling was associated with the largest increase in CORT. These results were in line with observed behavioural changes, with greater movement in rats exposed to the small cage and higher immobility after encircling. The female tail and eye temperature, as well as the CORT concentrations did not return to pre-stressor levels in the observation period, in conjunction with the greater occurrence of escape-related behaviours in female rats.