Heart rate and heart rate variability in multiparous dairy cows with unassisted calvings in the periparturient period

L. Kovács, J. Tozsér, F. L. Kézér, F. Ruff, M. Aubin-Wodala, E. Albert, A. Choukeir, Z. Szelényi, O. Szenci

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Abstract

Behavioural changes before calving can be monitored on farms; however, predicting the onset of calving is sometimes difficult based only on clinical signs. Heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) as non-invasive measures of autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity were investigated in Holstein-Friesian cows (N=20) with unassisted calvings in the periparturient period to predict the onset of calving and assess the stress associated with calving. R-R-intervals were analysed in 5-min time windows during the following three main periods of measurement: 1) between 0 and 96h before the onset of calving restlessness (prepartum period); 2) during four stages of calving: (I) early first stage; between the onset of calving restlessness and the first abdominal contractions; (II) late first stage (between the first abdominal contractions and the appearance of the amniotic sac); (III) early second stage (between the appearance of the amniotic sac and the appearance of the foetal hooves); (IV) late second stage (between the appearance of the foetal hooves and delivery of the calf), and 3) over 48h following calving (postpartum period). Data collected between 72 and 96h before calving restlessness was used as baseline. Besides HR, Poincaré measures [standard deviation 1 (SD1) and 2 (SD2) and SD2/SD1 ratio], the root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD) in R-R intervals, the high-frequency (HF) component of HRV and the ratio between the low-frequency (LF) and the HF components (LF/HF ratio) were calculated. Heart rate increased only following the onset of the behavioural signs, peaked before delivery of the calf, then decreased immediately after calving. Parasympathetic indices of HRV (RMSSD, HFnorm and SD1) decreased, whereas sympathovagal indices (LF/HF ratio and SD2/SD1 ratio) increased significantly from baseline between 12 and 24 before the onset of calving restlessness. The same pattern was observed between 0 and 1h before calving restlessness. Following the onset of behavioural signs, parasympathetic activity increased gradually with a parallel shift in sympathovagal balance towards parasympathetic tone, which was possibly a consequence of oxytocin release, which induces an increase in vagus nerve activity. Parasympathetic activity decreased rapidly between 0 and 0.5h following calving and was lower than measured during all other stages of the study, while sympathetic activity peaked during this stage and was higher than measured during any other stages. Between 0 and 4h after calving vagal tone was lower than baseline, whereas sympathovagal balance was higher, reflecting a prolonged physiological challenge caused by calving. Vagal activity decreased, whereas sympathovagal balance shifted towards sympathetic tone with increased live body weight of the calf during the late second stage of calving, suggesting higher levels of stress associated with the higher body weight of calves. All HRV indices, measured either at the late second stage of calving and between 12 and 24h after calving, were affected by the duration of calving. Our results indicate that ANS activity measured by HRV indices is a more immediate indicator of the onset of calving than behaviour or HR, as it changed earlier than when restlessness or elevation in HR could be observed. However, because of the possible effects of other physiological mechanisms (e.g. oxytocin release) on ANS activity it seems to be difficult to measure stress associated with calving by means of HRV between the onset of calving restlessness and delivery. Further research is needed to enable more precise interpretation of the prepartum changes in HR and HRV in dairy cattle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-289
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Volume139
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2015

Keywords

  • Behaviour
  • Dairy cows
  • Heart rate
  • Heart rate variability
  • Unassisted calving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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    Kovács, L., Tozsér, J., Kézér, F. L., Ruff, F., Aubin-Wodala, M., Albert, E., Choukeir, A., Szelényi, Z., & Szenci, O. (2015). Heart rate and heart rate variability in multiparous dairy cows with unassisted calvings in the periparturient period. Physiology and Behavior, 139, 281-289. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.11.039