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Measurement of stress levels in horses and possibilities for reducing stress with traditional and herbal products
Horváth Ariella Roxána - year 5
University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest, Department of Botany
Supervisors: Dr. Dániel Cserhalmi, Dr. Orsolya Korbacska-Kutasi


In the twenty-first century, there is growing demand for alternative, less invasive solutions, both in human and veterinary medicine. However, in most cases, these therapies are lack of prior scientific studies, which cast doubt on their effectiveness.

Keeping horses in stables has fewer sources of danger, but many stress factors have emerged and the animals couldn’t adapt, or still have difficulties tolerating them. Therefore, stress not only affects the well-being and performance of animals but can also manifest itself in deteriorating heart rate variability (HRV). As this is a common problem, preventive treatment may be necessary.

studies mention several plant species with sedative properties, including valerian (Valeriana officinalis). Our research aims to examine the efficiency of the plant, as only a few papers are available in the veterinary literature. Feeding experiments were performed on the horse herd of Dóra Major in Üllő. Before treatment, the overall stress level and temperament of the selected individuals were assessed. For this, we used three methods: on-site HRV measurement and a caregiver questionnaire. We have measured the levels of cortisol, the major stress hormone, in fecal samples. Comparing the results, we obtained a comprehensive, objective view of the current stress status of the studied individuals. The tests were performed before, during, and after the treatment as well. The condition assessment was repeated during and at the end of the experimental period.

The first feeding experiment lasted one month. We have applied the amount of valerian as it was suggested in previous studies, and it was mixed with the animals’ feed in a dried form.

On the first day of the first feeding experiment, blood samples were collected 0.5, 1, 2, 4, 8 hours after the zero time point. After plasma samples were analysed by the UHPLC method. The results of the experiment revealed that despite the recommended dose, only a small amount of the active substance was detectable in the blood thus only a minor amount absorbed from the dried plants through the digestive system, and for only a short period.

In the second experiment, an increased dose was applied, at which point the metabolites of valerian were on a detectable concentration.

The experiment proved that although the stress levels of the animals changed, feeding was too cumbersome and not lifestyle-like. The taste of valerian at this dose is too strong and unpleasant for horses. All this allows for further research, for example by applying only the active constituent in the form of extracts.

The results of our research can be used in practice and preventive stress management and it serves as scientific evidence instead of folk traditions.

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