The effect on water and electrolyte balance of stress, simulated by intravenous infusion of cortisol, was studied using 24 18-mo-old Merino wethers (37.0 ± 0.94 kg mean body weight [BW]) over 72 h. The sheep were allocated to one of four groups: 1) no water/no cortisol (n = 6); 2) water/no cortisol (n = 4); 3) no water/cortisol (n = 6); and 4) water/cortisol (n = 4). Animals allocated to the two cortisol groups were given 0.1 mg·kg BW -1·h-1 of hydrocortisone suspended in isotonic saline to simulate stress for the duration of the experiment. Total body water, plasma cortisol, osmolality and electrolytes, and urine electrolytes were determined at 24-h intervals for 72 h. In the presence of cortisol, total body water was maintained in the face of a water deprivation insult for 72 h. Water deprivation alone did not induce elevated plasma concentrations of cortisol, in spite of a 13% loss of total body water between 48 and 72 h. Infusion of cortisol was found to increase urine output (P = 0.003) and decrease total urinary sodium output (P = 0.032), but had no effect on plasma electrolyte levels or water intake. Water deprivation was found to increase plasma sodium concentrations (P = 0.037). These results indicate that sheep given cortisol to simulate stress suffer from a loss of body water in excess of that associated with a loss of electrolytes, and support the hypothesis that elevated physiological concentrations of cortisol induce a diuresis in ruminants that contributes to dehydration.