ArticlePDF Available

Sand Floor for Farmed Blue Foxes: Effects on Claws, Adrenal Cortex Function, Growth and Fur Properties

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

Farmed blue foxes (Vulpes lagopus) are traditionally housed on mesh floors where they are unable to perform certain species-specific behaviours, such as digging, which may compromise the animals' welfare. This study describes how a possibility to use in-cage sand floor affects welfare-related variables like growth of the claws, adrenal cortex function, and fur properties in juvenile blue foxes. The foxes (N=32) were housed in male-female sibling pairs in an outdoor fur animal shed in cage systems consisting of two traditional fox cages. For the eight male-female sibling pairs of the Control group, there was a mesh floor in both cages of each cage system, whereas for the eight pairs of the Sand group there was a mesh floor in one cage and a 30–40 cm deep earth floor in the other cage. The results show that sand floor is beneficial for the wearing of the claws of foxes. Furthermore, an early experience of sand floor may have positive effects on the foxes' fur development. The results, however, also suggest that there might appear welfare problems observed as disturbed claw growth and increased adrenal cortex activation if foxes that are once provided with clean and unfrozen sand floor are not allowed to enjoy this floor all the time.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Hindawi Publishing Corporation
International Journal of Zoology
Volume 2009, Article ID 563252, 6pages
doi:10.1155/2009/563252
Research Article
Sand Floor for Farmed Blue Foxes: Effects on Claws,
Adrenal Cortex Function, Growth and Fur Properties
Leena Ahola, Tarja Koistinen, and Jaakko Mononen
Department of Biosciences, University of Kuopio, P.O. Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland
Correspondence should be addressed to Leena Ahola, leena.ahola@uku.fi
Received 22 May 2008; Revised 21 November 2008; Accepted 10 February 2009
Recommended by Marcel Eens
Farmed blue foxes (Vulpes lagopus) are traditionally housed on mesh floors where they are unable to perform certain species-
specific behaviours, such as digging, which may compromise the animals’ welfare. This study describes how a possibility to use
in-cage sand floor aects welfare-related variables like growth of the claws, adrenal cortex function, and fur properties in juvenile
blue foxes. The foxes (N=32) were housed in male-female sibling pairs in an outdoor fur animal shed in cage systems consisting
of two traditional fox cages. For the eight male-female sibling pairs of the Control group, there was a mesh floor in both cages
of each cage system, whereas for the eight pairs of the Sand group there was a mesh floor in one cage and a 30–40 cm deep earth
floor in the other cage. The results show that sand floor is beneficial for the wearing of the claws of foxes. Furthermore, an early
experience of sand floor may have positive eects on the foxes’ fur development. The results, however, also suggest that there might
appear welfare problems observed as disturbed claw growth and increased adrenal cortex activation if foxes that are once provided
with clean and unfrozen sand floor are not allowed to enjoy this floor all the time.
Copyright © 2009 Leena Ahola et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
1. Introduction
According to the nature-based approach to animal welfare
(see [1]), the welfare of production animals can be improved
by providing the animals with natural housing conditions
that enable them to behave species-specifically. However,
it is impracticable to provide production animals with
completely natural living conditions. Nonetheless, although
it may not be possible to allow production animals to live
in completely natural conditions, we still may provide them
with some important environmental features rooted in their
natural living environment. With respect to farmed blue
foxes (Vulpes lagopus,formerlyAlopex lagopus), one of these
important key features is the floor material used in their
housing systems.
Farmed blue foxes are traditionally housed in plastic
coated wire mesh floor cages. However, recent research has
shown that an earthen floor, a natural surface for the wild V.
lagopus, may have some importance for blue foxes (e.g., [2
7]). However, recent research on the eects of sand or earth
floors on the behaviour and physiology of blue foxes has
suered from several confounding factors. In the previous
experiments, blue foxes have been farmed in male-male pairs
[8,9] or singly [4,6,10,11]whichdiers from the normal
farming practices where foxes are housed most often in
male-female pairs. For example, single housing per se may
jeopardise the welfare of social animals [12], especially when
they are juvenile (for farmed silver foxes Vulpes vulpes see
[13]). Therefore, in singly housed foxes, the eects of an
earth floor on the animals’ welfare may be exaggerated due
to the fact that the animals are suering social deprivation.
Other factors that may have confounded earlier experiments
have been reviewed in Koistinen et al. [14]. Koistinen et al.
[14] assessed blue foxes’ behaviour and preferences (i.e.,
feelings-based welfare, see [1]) between a mesh floor and
a sand floor in a study where the flaws of these previous
studies were corrected. Despite the modified study design,
the results of the study [14]turnedouttobepractically
the same as the results from the earlier studies: blue foxes
preferred, based on their time allocation, the mesh floor to
the sand floor but nonetheless the sand floor seemed to have
at least some enrichment value for the foxes. This emerged
when the foxes with access to the sand floor were shown to
express less stereotypic behaviours than the foxes with access
2International Journal of Zoology
only to the mesh floor. Furthermore, a rebound-eect was
observed in some behaviours on the sand floor (e.g., digging)
in the foxes with access to the sand floor after a sand floor
deprivation.
The present study that is a part of the study of Koistinen
et al. [14] continued to assess welfare eects of continuous
access to sand floor under normal farming conditions in
farmed blue foxes. Whereas Koistinen et al. [14] assessed blue
foxes’ behaviour and preferences (i.e., feelings-based welfare,
see [1]) between mesh and sand floors, in this study we
evaluated how a sand floor experience or the lack of this
experience can aect the blue foxes’ biological functioning
(functioning-based welfare, see [1]). First, we studied the
eects of the sand floor on the growth of the claws. In the
wild, foxes’ claws wear down while, for example, digging
and walking on ground. On farms, however, claws of the
foxes that are housed on mesh floor do not wear and the
claws may grow very long [15]. Long claws can become
caught in the mesh of the cage and break, exposing the
foxes to digit inflammations which impacts on both the
functioning-based and feelings-based welfare of the animals.
Therefore, the animal welfare legislation regulating farmed
fur animals [16] requires that the claws should be cut when
too long. Furthermore, the European Convention’s [17]
Recommendations concerning fur animals states that “animals
(foxes) will be kept in such way that their claws are in good
condition.” One way to ensure that those claws do not grow
too long is to provide the foxes with floor materials that
enhance the wearing of claws, for example, sand or earth.
Accordingly, we hypothesised that the possibility to interact
with sand floor could prevent the overgrowth of the foxes’
claws.
Secondly, we studied how the sand floor experience
aects the stress physiology and production of the blue foxes.
Our hypothesis was that if sand floor was important for
the welfare of farmed blue foxes (i.e., as suggested by the
feelings-based results of the study [14]), the lack of sand floor
or the deprivation of a once-experienced sand floor would
increase the activity of the adrenal cortex (e.g., [18]) and
reallocate animals’ biological resources from growth and fur
development to coping with the stress [19].
Accordingly, the present study aimed to assess whether
sand could be used as a feasible floor material for farmed
foxes under normal farming conditions, without compro-
mising the welfare of these animals. Possible welfare-related
eects were assessed by measuring the claw growth, adrenal
cortex function, growth and fur characteristics in the juvenile
blue foxes with access either to only a mesh floor or to both
a mesh and sand floors. The results will be discussed in the
light of the foxes’ behaviour during the present study [14].
2. Materials and Methods
The procedures used in the present study are in compli-
ance with the European Communities Council Directive
of 24 November 1986 (86/609/EEC). The experiment was
approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Commit-
tee of the University of Kuopio (Licence number 03-59).
2.1. Animals and Housing. There were 16 male-female sibling
pairs of farmed juvenile blue foxes, born in May, in the
present study. The foxes were housed throughout the study
in an outdoor fur shed. For the first four weeks of their lives,
each pair was housed with its mother and other siblings as
a fox family in a traditional mesh floored fox cage (115 ×
105 ×70 cm, L ×W×H) furnished with a nest box, a
mesh platform, a wooden gnawing object, and a feeding
tray. When the cubs were four weeks old, the families were
divided randomly into two experimental groups. For both
experimental groups, cage systems were constructed from
two traditional fox cages that were connected together with
an opening (22.5×27.5cm, W ×H) through the walls
between the cages. In the Control group, the families were
housed from the cubs’ age of four weeks until the cubs’ age of
eight weeks in double cage systems where both available cages
had a mesh floor. In the Sand group, the families were housed
in double cage systems where the bottom of one cage was
made of mesh and the bottom of the other cage was replaced
with a 35–40 cm deep layer of sand (particle size <10 mm).
The nest boxes were removed from the cages at the cubs’ age
of seven weeks. At the cubs’ age of eight weeks, the mother
and other cubs except for the randomly chosen experimental
male and female cubs were removed from the double cage
systems; that is, thereafter there was only the male-female
sibling pair in each double cage system. Accordingly, there
were eight male-female sibling pairs in both the Control
group and the Sand group.
Since the present experiment studied also the foxes’
preferences for sand floor (see [14]), the foxes in the Sand
group were deprived of the sand floor for 14 days in early
September. During this deprivation period, each pair of
foxes in the Sand group had access to a double cage system
where both available cages had a mesh floor. The foxes in
the Control group had access to mesh floored double cage
systems during the whole study (for detailed description of
the deprivation procedure see [14]).
Dirty sand was removed from the sand floor and the sand
box was refilled with clean sand immediately after weaning
and once in early October, soon after the deprivation period.
The health of the animals was checked daily. The foxes
were fed according to the recommendations given by the
Finnish Fur Breeders’ Association with fresh fur animal feed
twice a day until mid-November, thereafter once a day. The
daily feed portion per animal was the same for each group
and was delivered equally between the available cages. Water
was available ad libitum, except in subzero temperatures
(November-December) when fresh water was provided twice
aday.
2.2. Measured Parameters. Claw lengths (from the cuticle
to the claw tip) of all digits from the right front and back
paw were measured at the cubs’ age of eight weeks, in early
September (during the first week of the 14-day deprivation
period), early October, early November, and at pelting in
mid-December. The numbers of broken claws in the right
frontandrightbackpawwerecountedinearlySeptember,
early October, and at pelting in mid-December.
International Journal of Zoology 3
Body mass of the experimental foxes was measured at the
cubs’ age of eight weeks (i.e., at weaning in June-July), in
early October, and at pelting in mid-December.
Prior to pelting in mid-December, the foxes were injected
(1 mL i.m.) with synthetic corticotropin (ACTH) (0.25 mg
tetracosactide, Synacthen 0.25 mg/mL, Novartis Finland Oy,
Espoo, Finland). Two hours after the injection, the foxes
were euthanised by electrocution according to the methods
recommended by the Standing Committee of the European
Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming
Purposes [17]. Blood samples were immediately drawn by
cardiac puncture. The serum cortisol level, as a maximum
response to ACTH administration [18,20], was analysed
with a competitive immunoassay technique (Coat-A-Count
Cortisol Assay by Diagnostic Products Corporation, Los
Angeles, Calif, USA).
After pelting, the adrenals were removed from the
carcasses, cleaned, and weighed. The pelts were fleshed,
cleaned, dried, and sent for auction. Professional fur graders
at the Finnish Fur Sales Ltd (Helsinki, Finland) evaluated the
mass and overall quality of the furs using a 10-point scale (1:
poorest, 10: best).
2.3. Statistical Analyses. Statistical analyses were performed
using SPSS statistical software (SPSS for windows 14.0).
Since the two siblings in each double cage system were
dependent on each other, General Linear Model (GLM) for
repeated measures was used to analyse dierences between
the groups in all measured variables. For the body mass
data, the Huynh-Feldt epsilon, a correction formula in the
GLM procedure in SPSS, was used in calculating the new
degrees of freedom and significances in the within-subjects
eects Month and SexMonth due to the sphericity problems
in these within-subjects eects. Since the number of claw
breakages per animal was low in all measures, the data on
the number of broken claws was analysed as a sum variable
of claw breakages observed in both front and back paws in
September, October, and December. Thus, the maximum
possible number of claw breakages was 24 per animal. Since
the claw length did not dier significantly between the four
digits in the preliminary GLM model (P>.1), the claw
lengths were ultimately analysed using the mean length
of claws of all four digits. P-values smaller than .05 were
considered as statistically significant, .1 <P<.05 as
tendencies and P>.1 as nonsignificant (NS).
3. Results
No animals were found injured or sick during the whole
study.
More claw breakages per animal were observed in the
Control group (3.9±1.7, mean ±standard deviation, SD)
than in the Sand group (1.3±1.2)(F(1, 14) =12.78, P=
.003). Sex had no significant eect on the total number of
observed claw breakages (2.4±2.9and2.8±1.6 breakages in
males and females, resp., F(1, 14) =0.33, NS). There was no
significant interaction between the experimental group and
sex in the total number of claw breakages (F(1, 14) =0.59,
NS).
0
5
10
15
20
(kg)
Sand Control Sand Control Sand Control
PeltingOctoberWeaning
Figure 1: Body mass (kg, mean + SD) of juvenile blue foxes in the
Sand and Control groups at the cubs’ age of eight weeks (weaning),
in early October and at pelting (mid-December). Open bars: males,
solid bars: females. Main eects (GLM for repeated measures):
Group F(1, 14) =0.64, NS; Sex F(1, 14) =9.78, P=.007; Month
F(2, 21) =489.54, P=.000; SexMonth F(1, 18) =7.50, P=.009,
other interactions NS.
There was no significant main eect of the experimental
group on the claw length (Tabl e 1). The males had longer
claws, especially in the Control group, than the females.
Furthermore, the claws were, in general, longer in the right
front paw than in the right back paw. The claws remained
shorter in the Sand group than in the Control group until
November-December. In the Control group, the claws of
the front paw grew until November and became shorter
thereafter whereas the claws of the back paw started to
shorten already in September-October. In the Sand group,
the claws of the front and back paw wore and grew steadily
and only a small decrease in the claw lengths was observed in
the Sand group in the October claw inspection compared to
the situation in September.
There was no statistically significant dierence in the
body mass of the animals between the Sand group and
Control group (Figure 1). In general, the males were heavier
than the females, especially at the end of the growing
season.
The left adrenal was heavier in the Sand group than in
the Control group and in the males than in the females
(Figure 2). No significant dierences between the experi-
mental groups and sexes were observed in the mass of
right adrenal and the total mass of adrenals. There was no
significant dierence between the experimental groups and
sexes in the serum cortisol level after ACTH administration
(Sand group: 299±103 and 345 ±89 nmol/L in the males and
females, resp.; Control group: 308±108 and 314 ±68 nmol/L
in the males and females, resp., Group F(1, 14) =0.09, NS,
Sex F(1, 14) =0.65, NS, SexGroup F(1, 14) =0.38, NS).
The mass and overall quality of furs tended to be better
in the Sand group than in the Control group (Tabl e 2).
Furthermore, the mass and overall quality of furs was better
in the males than in the females. In particular, the females in
the Control group had poor mass and overall quality of furs.
4. Discussion
The present results revealed that the foxes’ claws remained
shorter in the Sand group than in the Control group until
4International Journal of Zoology
Tab le 1: Mean claw length (mm, mean ±SD) of front and back right paw at weaning, in September, October, November, and December
in juvenile blue foxes in the Sand and Control groups. Main eects (GLM for repeated measures): Group F(1, 14) =0.18, NS; Sex
F(1, 14) =7.60, P=.015; Month F(4, 56) =206.05, P=.000; Paw F(1, 14) =183.74, P=.000. Interactions: SexGroup F(1, 14) =3.50,
P=.082; MonthGroup F(4, 56) =4.06, P=.006; PawGroup F(1, 14) =20.19, P=.001; PawMonth F(4, 56) =2.94, P=.028;
MonthPawGroup F(4, 56) =7.50, P=.000; other interactions NS.
Weaning September October November December
Male, front paw
Sand 12.0±1.320.6±3.419.7±3.323.1±4.025.4±2.4
Control 11.8±1.223.2±1.324.6±2.225.8±1.824.4±3.8
Male, back paw
Sand 10.6±1.119.4±2.119.4±1.922.1±2.022.2±2.0
Control 9.7±1.720.1±2.020.0±1.721.2±1.421.1±1.7
Female, front paw
Sand 11.3±1.121.0±1.420.4±3.123.8±2.125.1±2.6
Control 11.7±1.222.8±2.124.0±2.523.0±1.822.5±3.3
Female, back paw
Sand 10.1±0.919.4±2.418.3±1.921.3±2.021.4±1.8
Control 9.3±1.018.5±1.418.0±1.619.5±2.420.6±3.2
Tab le 2: Mass and overall quality of the furs (10-point scale; 1 =poorest, 10 =best; mean ±SD) of juvenile blue foxes in the Sand and
Control groups.
Sand Control Group Sex Group x Sex
Male Female Male Female
Mass (a) 6.1±1.25.4±1.25.6±1.83.6±1.3F(1, 13) =3.18 F(1, 13) =23.68 F(1, 13) =4.89
P=.098 P=.000 P=.045
Quality (a) 5.4±1.24.9±1.24.7±1.92.7±1.6F(1,13) =4.24 F(1, 13) =12.64 F(1, 13) =4.55
P=.060 P=.004 P=.063
(a) GLM for repeated measures.
0
100
200
300
400
500
(mg)
Sand Control Sand Control
FemalesMales
Figure 2: Mass (mg, mean + SD) of left (spotted bars) and right
(lined bars) adrenal and total mass of adrenals (black bars) of
juvenile blue foxes in the Sand and Control groups. Main eects
(GLM for repeated measures): Left adrenal Group F(1, 13) =7.70,
P=.016, Sex F(1, 13) =5.88, P=.031, SexGroup F(1, 13) =
2.30, NS; Right adrenal Group F(1, 13) =0.70, NS, Sex F(1, 13) =
0.14, NS, SexGroup F(1, 13) =0.06, NS; Total mass of adrenals
Group F(1, 13) =2.97, NS, Sex F(1, 13) =1.52, NS, SexGroup
F(1, 13) =0.17, NS.
November. This result indicates that sand floor is beneficial
in promoting the wearing of the claws. However, although
digging or walking on any rough flooring wears the claws,
these activities also most probably increase the blood flow
to the digits which in turn not only increases the growth
rate but also strengthens the claws (see [21]). The eect of
dierent kinds of activities on claw length was apparent in
the present study, that is, longer claws in the front than
in the back paw digits (similarly to the results in [11]).
Accordingly, when the foxes were able to manipulate the sand
floor or at least utilised the sand floor [14], the claws of the
foxes in the Sand group wore “naturally.” The (fast-growing)
claws of the Sand group foxes were then broken after (or
during the last week of) the sand floor deprivation period
in September. Thereafter the claws of the Sand group foxes
again grew and wore “naturally.” This continued until the
sand floors were becoming soiled with faeces and frozen in
November-December. At that time, the Sand group foxes
spent significantly less time on the sand floor than in
September (on the sand floor 2.0±0.5and11.1±2.1%
of all observations in December and September before the
deprivation period, resp., [14]). In December, the claws did
not wear but continued to grow rapidly due to the earlier
stimulation. As a result, in December the claws of the Sand
group foxes were longer than the claws of the Control group
foxes. Accordingly, our hypothesis that sand floor would be
beneficial for the wearing of the claws was correct, but only
with one proviso: sand floors are beneficial for the claw
health and growth only if the foxes are permanently provided
with the kind of sand floor that the foxes are willing to utilise.
International Journal of Zoology 5
The eects of sand or earth floors on the adrenal cortex
activity in blue foxes have been assessed in earlier studies
by measuring the total mass of adrenals (e.g., [10,11]). In
general, no significant dierences have been detected in the
total adrenal mass between foxes with and without access to
an earth floor. However, there is evidence that it is the left
adrenal in particular that is more sensitive to stressful events
or stressful conditions [2224]. Here we found that the left
adrenals were heavier in the Sand group foxes than in the
Control group foxes. Accordingly, this result suggests that the
foxes in the Sand group had experienced more stress than the
foxes in the Control group. It could be hypothesised that the
Sand group foxes experienced the sand floor as an aversive
surface. One indication in support of this proposal might be
that the Sand group foxes were seen on the sand floor cage in
less than 20% of the total observations [14]. In the Control
group, in contrast, the observations were evenly distributed
between the two available cages. However, one must bear in
mind that the Sand group foxes were never forced to stay on
the sand floors, they always had access to the mesh floor,
too. Furthermore, mere time allocation between available
options is an insucient basis on which to draw conclusions
about animals’ needs (see [14]). Therefore, another, more
likely explanation is that the increased left adrenal mass in
the Sand group was attributable to the lack of the clean
and unfrozen sand floor in the latter part of the study
period. In other words, when the sand floor was clean and
unfrozen, the foxes were able or willing to perform dierent
activities in the sand, for example, digging, scratching, and
sning.InSeptemberandOctober,approximately50%of
observations from the total observations of these behaviours
were observed to occur on the sand floor [14]. When the
sand floor became soiled and frozen in December, the Sand
group foxes spent less time on the sand floor than previously,
and less than 25% of the total observations of digging or
scratching and sning behaviours occurred on the sand
floor [14]. The hypothesis that it was the lack of (clean
and unfrozen) sand floor that enlarged the foxes’ adrenals is
supported by the observation of a rebound-eect in digging
and sning behaviour when these foxes were reunited with
this resource after the deprivation period in September [14],
that is, the animals place value on access to a clean sand floor.
Accordingly, the present result on the adrenal mass, as well as
the feelings-based welfare results [14], suggests that if farmed
blue fox cubs are once provided with a clean and unfrozen
sand floor, they should be allowed to enjoy this floor for
the rest of their lives (cf. digging in farmed blue foxes, [5]).
This could, however, prove to be impossible or at least highly
demanding to implement in northern climates with subzero
temperatures during the long winter months.
The ACTH challenge test did not reveal any significant
dierences between the experimental groups in their adrenal
cortex activities. This apparent discrepancy between the
adrenal mass and ACTH challenge test results is not a unique
finding in welfare studies (see, e.g., [25,26]). Furthermore,
in the present study, the animals were injected with the
more rapidly acting Synacthen instead of the more slowly
acting Synacthen Depot that has been used earlier in studies
focusing on the welfare of farmed foxes (e.g., [20,25]); that
is, the true peak cortisol concentration may have occurred
already before the blood samples were drawn. Therefore, the
present ACTH challenge test results should be evaluated with
some caution.
With regard to the measured production variables, there
were no statistical dierences in the body masses of the
foxes in the two experimental groups. The Sand group foxes
tended to have better mass and overall quality of furs than
the Control group foxes. Blue foxes start to replace their
summer coat with a new winter pelage already in August
[27]; that is, the foxes have to be prepared to invest their
biological resources in fur development throughout their
growing season. The slightly better mass and overall quality
of furs in the Sand group foxes might suggest that the Sand
groupfoxescouldaord to invest their resources in fur
development and growth during their early lives, that is,
from August onwards, whereas the Control group foxes were
investing more of their resources in coping (see [19]for
discussion about the “biological cost of stress”) with their
every-day-lives, including the housing environment without
a possibility to interact with sand floor.
In conclusion, the present results suggest that access
to sand floor is beneficial for the wearing of the claws of
blue foxes. Furthermore, an early experience of sand floor
may have positive eects on the animals’ fur development.
However, these results also suggest that if foxes are once
provided with clean and unfrozen sand floor, they should
be allowed to have access to this kind of floor all the time.
Otherwise there may be welfare problems such as disturbed
claw growth and increased adrenal cortex activation. It may
prove to be impossible or at least highly demanding to allow
foxes to enjoy access to clean and unfrozen sand floor under
the normal fox farming practices in northern climates with
subzero temperatures for several months.
Acknowledgments
The authors wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for
their constructive comments. The study was supported by
the Fur Animal Welfare Council and Finnish Fur Breeders’
Association. The authors are grateful to the staof the
research station for animal care, to Martti Hallikainen, Maija
Miskala, Teija Pyyk¨
onen, and Antti Turunen for practical
assistance on the farm and Hobo Kukkonen for laboratory
analyses.
References
[1] D. Fraser, D. M. Weary, E. A. Pajor, and B. N. Milligan, “A
scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical
concerns,Animal Welfare, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 187–205, 1997.
[2] H. Korhonen and P. Niemel¨
a, “Choices of farm foxes for raised
wire mesh cage and ground pen,Applied Animal Behaviour
Science, vol. 54, no. 2-3, pp. 243–250, 1997.
[3] H. Korhonen, L. Jauhiainen, and P. Niemel¨
a, “Eect of
enlarged cage space and access to earthen floor on locomotor
and digging activity of blue foxes,Agricultural and Food
Science in Finland, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 253–263, 1999.
6International Journal of Zoology
[4] H. T. Korhonen, L. Jauhiainen, and P. Niemel¨
a, “Eect of space
allowance and earthen flooring on behaviour of farmed blue
foxes,Acta Ethologica, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 11–21, 2001.
[5] H. T. Korhonen, L. Jauhiainen, L. Kokkonen, and T. Rekil¨
a,
“Digging in farmed blue foxes: essential or not?” Annals of
Animal Science, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 405–419, 2004.
[6]M.Harri,S.Kasanen,J.Mononen,andJ.Sepponen,“Pref-
erences of farmed blue foxes for dierent floor types,
Behavioural Processes, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 111–119, 2000.
[7] T. Koistinen, L. Ahola, and J. Mononen, “Blue foxes’ moti-
vation for access to an earth floor measured by operant
conditioning,Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 107, no.
3-4, pp. 328–341, 2007.
[8] H. Korhonen, L. Jauhiainen, P. Niemel¨
a, M. Harri, and R.
Sauna-aho, “Physiological and behavioural responses in blue
foxes (Alopex lagopus) : comparisons between space quantity
and floor material,Animal Science, vol. 72, no. 2, pp. 375–387,
2001.
[9] H. T. Korhonen, P. Niemel¨
a, and L. Jauhiainen, “Eect of space
and floor material on the behaviour of farmed blue foxes,
Canadian Journal of Animal Science, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 189–
197, 2001.
[10] H. Korhonen, P. Niemel¨
a, L. Jauhiainen, and T. Tupasela,
“Eects of space allowance and earthen floor on welfare-
related physiological and behavioural responses in male blue
foxes,Physiology and Behavior, vol. 69, no. 4-5, pp. 571–580,
2000.
[11] H. T. Korhonen, L. Jauhiainen, and T. Rekil¨
a, “In-cage
sandbox as a ground substitute for farmed blue foxes (Alopex
lagopus): eects on digging activity and welfare,Canadian
Journal of Animal Science, vol. 83, no. 4, pp. 703–712, 2003.
[12] M. Mendl and R. C. Newberry, “Social conditions,” in Animal
Welfare, M. C. Appleby and B. O. Hughes, Eds., pp. 191–203,
CAB International, Wallingford, UK, 1997.
[13] L. Ahola, Eects of social and physical housing environment on
the welfare in silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Doctoral dissertation,
Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Kuopio
University, Kuopio, Finland, 2002.
[14] T. Koistinen, L. Ahola, and J. Mononen, “Blue foxes’ (Alopex
lagopus) preferences between earth floor and wire mesh floor,
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 111, no. 1-2, pp. 38–53,
2008.
[15] V. Pedersen, “Length, growth and wearing of claws among
farmed blue foxes (Alopex lagopus) with and without nest
boxes,Scientifur, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 101–103, 1990.
[16] Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, “Decision on animal
welfare requirements for fur animals,” (16/VFD/1999), 1999.
[17] European Convention, “Standing committee of the European
Convention for the Protection of animals kept for farming
purposes (T-AP). Recommendations concerning fur animals,
T-AP (96) 19, June 1999.
[18] D. Broom and K. G. Johnson, Stress and Animal Welfare,
Chapman & Hall, London, UK, 1993.
[19] G. P. Moberg, “Biological response to stress: implication
for animal welfare,” in The Biology of Animal Stress,G.P.
Moberg and J. A. Mench, Eds., pp. 1–21, CAB International,
Wallingford, UK, 2000.
[20] T. Rekil¨
a, M. Harri, L. Jalkanen, and J. Mononen, “Relation-
ship between hyponeophagia and adrenal cortex function in
farmed foxes,Physiology & Behavior, vol. 65, no. 4-5, pp. 779–
783, 1998.
[21] A. S. Geyer, N. Onumah, H. Uyttendaele, and R. K. Scher,
“Modulation of linear nail growth to treat diseases of the nail,
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 50, no.
2, pp. 229–234, 2004.
[22] H. S. Siegel and P. B. Siegel, “The relationship of social
competition with endocrine weights and activity in male
chickens,Animal Behaviour, vol. 9, no. 3-4, pp. 151–158,
1961.
[23] E.Szigethy,Y.Conwell,N.T.Forbes,C.Cox,andE.D.Caine,
Adrenal weight and morphology in victims of completed
suicide,Biological Psychiatry, vol. 36, no. 6, pp. 374–380,
1994.
[24]L.N.Trut,L.A.Prasolova,A.V.Kharlamova,andI.Z.
Plyusnina, “Directional left-sided asymmetry of adrenals in
experimentally domesticated animals,Bulletin of Experimen-
tal Biology and Medicine, vol. 133, no. 5, pp. 506–509, 2002.
[25] L.Ahola,M.Harri,S.Kasanen,J.Mononen,andT.Pyyk
¨
onen,
“Eects of group housing in an enlarged cage system on
growth, bite wounds and adrenal cortex function in farmed
blue foxes (Alopex lagopus),” Animal Welfare, vol. 9, no. 4, pp.
403–412, 2000.
[26] L.Ahola,J.Mononen,T.Pyyk
¨
onen, and M. Miskala, “Group
housing of farmed silver fox cubs,Animal Welfare, vol. 15, no.
1, pp. 39–47, 2006.
[27] L. Blomstedt, “Pelage cycle in blue fox (Alopex lagopus):
a comparison between animals born early and late in the
season,Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A, vol. 48, no.
2, pp. 122–128, 1998.
... 394 Access to a sand floor is beneficial for the wearing of the claws of blue foxes. 395 Once blue foxes are provided with access to a clean and unfrozen sand floor, they may show a stress response if they are not allowed to enjoy this floor type all the time. 396 Solid floors were highly preferred by silver foxes when the floor was dry, but not when it was wet or icy. ...
... 394 Access to a sand floor is beneficial for the wearing of the claws of blue foxes. 395 Once blue foxes are provided with access to a clean and unfrozen sand floor, they may show a stress response if they are not allowed to enjoy this floor type all the time. 396 Solid floors were highly preferred by silver foxes when the floor was dry, but not when it was wet or icy. ...
Article
Various protocols to induce chronic stress in rodents are being used to determine the effects and underlying mechanisms of prolonged stress experience. Recently, a novel chronic social stress (CSS) protocol has been developed for mice where social instability in adolescence and early adulthood is induced. This protocol has been shown to cause an increase in HPA-axis activity and acute avoidance behaviour in the elevated plus maze. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of this CSS protocol on habituation to an initially novel environment in CD1 mice, since it has been shown that initially high avoidance behaviour in mice can still be followed by rapid habituation, pointing towards an adaptive response. One group of male mice, the CSS group, was exposed to the CSS protocol for 7 weeks and we compared their behavioural and physiological responses with male mice that were housed in a stable social group, the SH group. The results reveal a decrease in body weight gain and fur condition, changes in adrenal weight and decreased GR mRNA expression in the CA1 and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus in chronically stressed CD1 animals. Irrespective of such evidence for a significantly stressful effect of the protocol, CD 1 mice, after termination of the stress procedure, revealed habituation profiles that matched those of control animals. We conclude that the physiological and central-nervous effects caused by a CSS procedure as used in this experiment fall within the coping capacities of CD1 mice at the behavioural level.
Article
Welfare-related physiological and behavioural responses were studied in farmbred blue foxes (Alopex lagopus). Comparisons in space quantity were made between two different-sized shed cages (50 cm long (W50) and 120 cm long (W120); each 105 cm wide × 70 cm high) and for one ont-of-shed pen (5 m long × 3 m wide × 1.8 m high; W500). Each option had a wire-mesh floor. Furthermore, we tested how floor material affects responses by comparing the W500 foxes in wire-mesh floor pens with foxes housed in earthen floor pens (E500: 5 m long × 3 m wide × 1.8 m high). Each test group comprised 20 juvenile males maintained in pairs. The experiments lasted from weaning in July to pelting in December. Final body weights of the W500 foxes were significantly lower than those of the W50 or W220 foxes. Claw length of back foot was longer for E500 than for W500 foxes. Posture of front feet was the most folded for W50 and the least folded for E500 foxes. Breaking strength of tibia was highest for foxes housed on the earthen floor (E500). Gastrocnemius muscle succinate dehydrogenase activity tended to decrease and the number of leucocytes tended to increase with cage size. Alanine-aminotransferase and aspartate-amino transferase activities were significantly higher in foxes housed in shed cages (W50, W120) than in enclosures (W500, E500). Creatine-kinase activity tended to decline with increasing cage size. Highest and lowest open field activity was found for E500 and W50 foxes in both wire-mesh and earthen floor test arenas. Some differences were found in body weight-related organ sizes between groups. Heart weight was significantly higher in W500 than in W50 or W120 foxes. Brain weight was significantly lower in W50 than in W500 foxes. Liver weight increased with increasing cage size. Capture time was significantly lower for W50 and W120 foxes than for W500 or E500 foxes. Cortisol levels after capture were significantly higher in foxes from enclosures (W500, E500) than in those from shed cages (W50, W120), but after ACTH stimulation the levels were similar in each group. Rectal temperatures after restraint were highest in foxes from W500. Fur properties of W500 and E500 foxes were poorer than those of W50 or W120 foxes.
Article
Effects of space and floor material on the behaviour of blue foxes were evaluated in the following groups: (1) small wire-mesh cages (50 cm long × 105 wide cm × 70 cm high; W50); (2) medium wire-mesh cages (120 cm long × 105 cm wide × 70 cm high; W120); (3) wire-mesh floored pens (5 m long × 3m wide × 1.8 m high:W500); and (4) earthen floored pens (5 m long × 3 m wide × 1.8 m high; E500). Activity and locomotion were lowest in W50 foxes and tended to increase with increasing cage size. Floor material had only a slight effect on activity and stereotypies. Locomotion was higher in E500 than in W500 foxes. Locomotor stereotypy increased with increasing cage size, and was higher in W500 than in E500 foxes. Significant periodic changes were found in several behavioural variables. Activity was concentrated most and least frequently between 8 and 16 h and 0 and 8 h, respectively. The same tendency was found for sitting, standing, locomotion and activity. Digging was noted only in E500 foxes, averaging 15 min/24 h, and being most common between 16 and 24 h.
Article
A study on the behavioural and welfare effects of in-cage sandboxes was carried out on juvenile farm-bred blue foxes (Alopex lagopus) with special reference to digging behaviours and time spent on sand substrate. Twelve juvenile male blue foxes were used in each of two experimental groups: (1) a test group and (2) a control group. Animals were raised singly in cages measuring 120 cm long x 105 cm wide x 70 cm high, from weaning in July to pelting in December. All experimental animals were housed conventionally but cages of the test group contained in-cage sandboxes (80 cm long x 40 cm wide x 14 cm high). Various physiological, behavioural, health and production-related variables were measured during the study. Final body weights of test animals were significantly (P = 0.05) lower than controls. Occurrence of endoparasites (Toxascaris leonina, Isospora sp.) did not substantially differ between groups. Open field activity was greater (P = 0.02) and latency to touch novel objects shorter (P = 0.02) in the test group compared with the control. Cortisol-creatinine ratio, incidence of stereotypes, size of adrenals or other organs, blood screen and fur quality parameters were not significantly different. Sandbox hygiene deteriorated rapidly during the experimental period. Fur coats of test animals were dirtier than those of controls at pelting. Claw length of test animals was significantly shorter (front foot; P < 0.005, back foot, P < 0.001) than in controls only in October. Altogether nine different sandbox behaviours were observed in the test foxes. Digging was the fifth most common behavior, comprising 5.8% of total sandbox use. Amount of time spent in the sandbox peaked in July, averaging 117 min/24 h, and declined towards winter. The most common sandbox behaviours observed were walking (24.3% of total time), sitting (22.0%) and resting (17.5%). Results indicated low motivation to use in-cage sandboxes as a digging substrate. On the other hand, the presence of in-cage sandboxes may provide opportunities for foxes to engage in other species-specific activities and/or seek sensory comfort through contact with the sand. The effects of in-cage sandboxes on animal welfare need further study.
Article
In the present study, the effects of social environment on the welfare of farmed silver fox cubs were clarified. After weaning, cubs from silver fox litters were housed (1) singly, (2) in litters until the end of September and thereafter singly, or (3) in litters throughout their growing season. Separating the cubs at the onset of the species' natural dispersal time may not be strictly beneficial for the cubs because it may limit the animals' possibilities to fulfil their needs for social behaviour. However, the lower incidence of bite wounds in both the single housed cubs and the cubs from litters that were split in autumn showed some beneficial effects of separating the cubs. The cubs that were group housed in litters for the whole time were focussed on their own social system, were more averse to human presence and showed greater responses to acute stress than the cubs that were single housed for at least part of the time. However, the serum cortisol level following adrenocorticotropic hormone administration suggested that cubs that were group housed in litters were less stressed over the long-term compared with the cubs that were single housed for at least part of the time; the low incidence of stereotypic behaviour in the cubs raised in litters also supports this hypothesis. Accordingly, and despite some unsolved questions regarding interpretation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, the results from this present study show that social contacts were important for the welfare of silver fox cubs, and suggest that farmed silver fox cubs could possibly be raised in litters without jeopardising their welfare or deteriorating their fur quality.
Article
Blue foxes (Alopex lagopus) with access to both earth floor and wire mesh floor have shown a preference, measured as time allocation, for a wire mesh floor. However, in these earlier studies there have been several confounding factors (e.g. with the size and elevation of the floors) that were controlled for in the present preference experiment. In addition to the blue foxes’ preference, we measured the foxes’ behaviour both on an earth floor and a wire mesh floor, and evaluated the effects of an earth floor deprivation on the behaviour of the foxes. From the cubs’ age of 4 weeks (July), 16 fox families (vixen and cubs) were housed in an outdoor fur animal shed in cage systems consisting of two fox cages. At the cubs’ age of 8 weeks, the cubs were separated from their mother and thereafter only the experimental male–female sibling pairs were housed in the experimental cages until December. In the eight pairs of the control group, there was a wire mesh floor in both cages, whereas in the eight pairs of the earth group, there was a wire mesh floor in one cage and a 30–40cm deep earth floor in the other cage. The behaviour and locations of the foxes’ were recorded using instantaneous sampling (with a sampling interval of 5min) for 24h five times, i.e. in September just before an earth floor deprivation (SEP or BDE), on the 9th day of the 14-day deprivation (DEP), on the 1st day after the deprivation (ADE), in October (OCT) and in December (DEC). The recordings SEP, OCT and DEC were interpreted as a preference setup and, the recordings BDE, DEP and ADE were interpreted as a deprivation setup. The control group used both available cages equally, whereas the earth group used the wire mesh cage more than the earth floor cage for both resting and activity. The earth group showed less oral stereotypic activity than the control group. A rebound effect in digging and sniffing on sand was observed after the earth floor deprivation in the earth group. The results confirm the earlier findings that farm born blue foxes prefer a wire mesh floor to earth floor when measured as time allocation. However, farmed foxes with early experience of an earth floor may value the behaviours enabled by the presence of an earth floor.
Article
The aims of the present series of experiments were to measure farmed blue foxes’ motivation for access to an earth floor exploiting operant conditioning, and to analyse the foxes’ behaviour on the earth floor in different seasons. Six farm-born blue fox males were used in the experiments. The foxes’ motivation for access to the earth floor was measured in autumn, winter and spring. In each season, the foxes were exposed to work for access to the earth floor on a fixed ratio (FR) sequence (FR4, FR8, FR16, FR32 and FR64) in operant apparatus designed for the study. The FR sequence was repeated three times in autumn and spring and twice in winter. In each experiment, the foxes were tested every second day in 6-h test sessions. The reward, i.e. the possibility to stay on the earth floor, lasted for 4min. The slope and intercept of the demand curve were calculated. The foxes’ behaviour during the earth floor rewards was analysed using continuous recording. The slopes of the fragment of the demand curves for the earth floor ranged from −0.40 to −0.31. The slope or the intercept of the demand curve revealed no differences between the seasons. However, the foxes’ behaviour on the earth floor varied between the seasons. The time spent digging and the number of vole jumps were lowest in winter when the earth floor was frozen. The percentage of play behaviour from the total time spent on the earth floor was highest during autumn, when the foxes were young and the earth floor was not frozen. In conclusion, blue foxes are motivated for access to an earth floor. The motivation for access to the earth floor does not change between the seasons or with age or experience of the foxes. Foxes’ behavioural profile on the earth floor varies according to the properties of earth floor and is possibly also dependent on the age of foxes.
Article
Time-budget distribution for a raised wire mesh cage and a ground-level solid-floored pen were assessed in male silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) (N = 8 adults) and blue foxes (Alopex lagopus) (N = 10 adults and N = 10 juveniles) in a combined cage-pen housing arrangement employing 24 h infrared activity detectors and video recordings. The experimental set-up comprised a ground floor pen (2 m wide × 4 m long × 1.5 m high) equipped with a 1 m long wire mesh tunnel (diameter 30 cm) which was connected to the standard shed cage (110 cm long × 107 cm wide × 60 cm high). Time spent for locomotion, sitting and standing in silver foxes was of the same order of magnitude in both sections. However, the cage floor was utilized significantly more (p < 0.001) than the ground floor for resting. The total time spent in the cage section was also significantly higher (p < 0.001) than that in the pen section. Silver foxes spent 48 min/24 h for digging which occurred only in the pen section. The feeding location did not significantly influence the choice of section due to the short amount of daily time used for eating. In adult blue foxes the time used for locomotion was about the same in both sections. However, juvenile blue foxes spent more time in the cage section (p < 0.01). It can be concluded that farm foxes originally born and lived in shed cages do not reject wire mesh flooring.
Article
Pelage development was compared in male blue foxes born in early May (E) and in early June (L) (4/group). Guard hair and underfur hair cycles were studied histologically on series of skin samples taken from the hip, between August and December. The winter guard hair cycles were similar but there was a shift in time of several weeks between the groups. The difference evened out in mid‐November, when 97% of guard hairs were mature. The growth cycle of winter underfur hairs in group L was more synchronized than in group E. The mean count of mature (telogen) underfur hairs per bundle differed slightly between the groups on 1 December but the mean total hair counts (anagen and telogen hairs) were similar. The natural adjustment of the pelage cycle in blue foxes of different age is modified by the duration of the resting period of summer hair follicles, which probably is mediated via melatonin.