Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Nancy Bigley (Committee Member), Cheryl Conley (Committee Member), Michael Hennessy (Committee Chair)

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Animal shelter housing is highly stressful for a dog, compromising welfare and leading to undesirable behaviors and unknown health consequences. We documented the changes in circulating numbers of white blood cells, plasma cortisol, and fecal parasite shedding of dogs housed for 10 days at a county animal shelter. White blood cell changes were most prominent on Day 10 after arrival to the shelter. Changes included increased total leukocytes, mature neutrophils, and lymphocytes, with less consistent increases in monocytes and neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio (N:L). Fecal parasite shedding was elevated and not affected by day. Cortisol levels of shelter dogs declined over time, and when compared with dogs living in stable home environments were higher on all days measured (1, 3, and 10). Total leukocytes, neutrophils, monocytes, and N:L were also higher in shelter dogs than control dogs. Petting sessions of 30 minutes daily for 10 days reduced the cortisol of shelter dogs, but did not have an effect on white blood cells or parasite shedding. This study documents high rates of parasitic infection, large and increasing immunological responses, and plasma cortisol elevations of dogs in an animal shelter. Increasing opportunities for daily interaction with caregivers is likely to improve the welfare of shelter dogs, but additional research must be done to identify potential health benefits.

Page Count


Department or Program

Microbiology and Immunology

Year Degree Awarded