Olfaction in Relation to Reproduction in Domestic Animals

  • R. Mykytowycz


In a consideration of the role of odour in reproduction of domestic animals their behaviour generally and the necessity for them to communicate with one another must be taken into account.

Since in mammals, reproduction is under multisensory control, their odour signals, unlike the pheromones of some insects, will rarely be the sole factor regulating breeding. However they may often ensure its efficiency and aid natural selection.

Examples from mammal species which were the subjects of intensive ethological studies show that under natural conditions, smell is involved at different phases of reproduction. Thus in most species the acquisition of breeding space, social status, precopulatory behaviour, coitus, mother-child relationship, and imprinting to own species and social unit, are based on olfactory signals.

Domestication has selected against many forms of behaviour which depend on olfactory communication, but despite all the selection pressures domestic animals retain their abilities to produce and perceive odours and given the opportunity will revert to the natural forms of behaviour in which olfaction plays an important role.

There are different sources of odours in animals — vaginal discharge, urine, saliva, faeces, skin glands, seminal fluid, and embryonic fluid — and all of them have been found to contribute to messages related to reproduction in domestic animals.

There is a tendency to pay attention to the overt responses produced by odours. It is often overlooked that smell - apart from its own specific pathways — also affects the sensitivity of other sensory systems.

There is a need for the systematic investigation of the effects of odours on the endocrine systems in domestic animals.

The manipulation of olfactory stimuli is now successfully applied in some managerial situations as for instance in detecting oestrus in pigs or facilitating the fostering of newborn lambs. There are also other situations in which odour stimulation may prove useful, such as efforts to increase the rate of conception during artificial insemination, the breeding of rare individuals kept in isolation from conspecifics, or stimulation of milk ejection.

Quite apart from any practical gains, a better knowledge of olfaction will permit a more complete understanding of the biology of domestic animals.


Domestic Animal Artificial Insemination Vaginal Discharge Olfactory Stimulus Oryctolagus Cuniculus 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Mykytowycz
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Wildlife ResearchCSIROLynehamAustralia

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