Stress in shelter pets and the use of foster care to improve animal welfare

Open Access
Fehringer, Ashley Alysse
Area of Honors:
Animal Sciences
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Nancy Ann Dreschel, Thesis Supervisor
  • Troy Ott, Honors Advisor
  • Stress
  • Shelter Dogs
  • Foster Care
  • Animal Welfare
Companion animals are an integral part of families in the United States and improving their well-being has become high priority. Many pets spend time in shelters before finding a permanent home, and their experiences at a shelter can greatly influence their adoptability. To increase adoption rates, it should be the shelter’s priority to increase animal welfare by reducing stress. However, with limited resources this can be a difficult task. One affordable option is to implement a foster care system into animal shelters. Unfortunately, there is limited information about the effect of foster care on stress levels in shelter pets. Therefore, this study sought to determine if stress is reduced in shelter dogs, when the animal is entered into foster care. Saliva was collected from shelter dogs periodically throughout their time at the shelter and their time in the foster home and analyzed for cortisol concentration using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The study also measured stress by quantifying common behavioral and health qualities associated with stress. Results showed that dogs had higher (p<0.01) cortisol concentrations in their first three days at the shelter than they did in their first three days in the foster. This indicates that dogs are more stressed in the shelter than they are in the foster home and thus foster care could be an effective way to reduce stress in shelter pets.