Cardiac responses to palpation per rectum in lactating and nonlactating dairy cows

L. Kovács, J. Tozsér, O. Szenci, P. Póti, F. L. Kézér, F. Ruff, Gy Gábriel-Tozsér, D. Hoffmann, M. Bakony, V. Jurkovich

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Interest in the monitoring of heart rate variability (HRV) has increased recently, as it gives more detailed and immediate information about the level of stress than traditional behavioral or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal measures. In this study, we evaluated heart rate (HR) and parasympathetic HRV parameters to monitor cardiac stress responses to palpation per rectum (PPR) in lactating (LACT; n. =. 11) and nonlactating (NLACT; n. =. 12) dairy cows. Heart rate and HRV were recorded from 40. min before PPR until 120. min after it was completed. Heart rate, the root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD), and the high-frequency component (HF) of HRV were analyzed by examining 5-min time windows. To compare cardiac responses to PPR between groups, changes in HR and HRV parameters were calculated as area under the curve (AUC) for LACT and NLACT cows. An immediate increase in HR was detected during PPR in both LACT (+21.4. ±. 2.4 beats/min) and NLACT cows (+20.6. ±. 2.3 beats/min); however, no differences were found between groups on the basis of parameters of AUC. The increase in HR in both groups along with a parallel decrease in RMSSD (LACT cows: -5.2. ±. 0.4. ms; NLACT cows: -5.1. ±. 0.4. ms) and HF [LACT cows: -10.1. ±. 0.8 nu (where nu. =. normalized units); NLACT cows: -16.9. ±. 1.2 nu] during PPR indicate an increase in the sympathetic, and a decrease in the parasympathetic tone of the autonomic nervous system. The increase in RMSSD (LACT cows: +7.3. ±. 0.7. ms; NL cows: +17.8. ±. 2.2. ms) and in HF (LACT cows: +24.3. ±. 2.6 nu; NLACT cows: +32.7. ±. 3.5 nu) immediately after PPR indicated a rapid increase in parasympathetic activity, which decreased under the baseline values 10. min following PPR. The amplitude and the maximum RMSSD and HF values were greater in NLACT cows than in LACT animals, suggesting a higher short-term cardiac responsiveness of NLACT cows. However, the magnitude and the duration of the stress response were greater in LACT cows, as indicated by the analysis of AUC parameters (area under the HRV response curve and time to return to baseline). Cow response to the PPR was more prominent in parasympathetic HRV measures than in HR. Based on our results, the effect of PPR on the cows' cardiac stress responses may have an impact on animal welfare on dairy farms, and investigating the effect of lactation on the cardiac stress reactions could prove useful in modeling bovine stress sensitivity. Further research is needed to find out whether the differences due to lactation are physiological or management related.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6955-6963
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2014



  • Dairy cow
  • Heart rate
  • Heart rate variability
  • Palpation per rectum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics

Cite this

Kovács, L., Tozsér, J., Szenci, O., Póti, P., Kézér, F. L., Ruff, F., Gábriel-Tozsér, G., Hoffmann, D., Bakony, M., & Jurkovich, V. (2014). Cardiac responses to palpation per rectum in lactating and nonlactating dairy cows. Journal of dairy science, 97(11), 6955-6963.