The effect of stress on drinking, water balance and endocrine profile was studied using ten castrated rams. Individual sheep were exposed to 30-h periods of total isolation (psychological stress) or physical separation from their social group (control). Plasma was analysed for haematocrit, osmolality, electrolyte levels and concentrations of cortisol and arginine vasopressin. Isolation stress significantly reduced water intake, increased haematocrit and plasma concentration of cortisol, but did not alter osmolality or vasopressin concentration. The physiological effects of this self-imposed water restriction contrast with those obtained by depriving the sheep of water for 24 h under conditions that were not stressful, i.e. by keeping them grouped together. These results suggest that cortisol may act to defend plasma volume in sheep exposed to acute stress. The results also indicate that vasopressin probably should not be considered to be a 'stress hormone' in the sheep.