Sprague Dawley rats from different vendor colonies display divergent responses in a variety of experimental paradigms. An adjuvant-induced arthritis (AA) model of human rheumatoid arthritis was used to examine immune and endocrine responses to inflammatory challenge in Sprague Dawley rats from Charles River and Harlan colonies. Rats were injected with either complete Freund's adjuvant or physiological saline (control), weights, and paw volumes measured over 15 days, and blood and tissue were collected 16 days post-injection. Overall, Harlan rats developed more severe AA than Charles River rats. In addition, despite comparable corticosterone levels, corticosteroid binding globulin levels were lower in Harlan compared with Charles River rats in the absence of inflammation, suggesting that a lower corticosterone reservoir in Harlan rats may underlie their greater susceptibility to inflammation. With increasing AA severity, there was an increase in plasma corticosterone (total and free) and a decrease in corticosteroid binding globulin in both Charles River and Harlan rats. However, contrasting patterns of cytokine activation were observed in the hind paw, suggesting a reliance on different cytokine networks at different stages of inflammation, with Charles River rats exhibiting increased TNF-α, monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), keratinocyte chemoattractant/growth-regulated oncogene (KC/GRO), and IL-1β in the absence of clinical signs of arthritis, whereas Harlan had increased TNF-α, monocyte chemotactic protein-1, and IL-6 with mild to moderate arthritis. These colony-specific differences in endocrine and immune responses to AA in Sprague Dawley rats must be considered when comparing data from different laboratories and could be exploited to provide insight into physiological changes and therapeutic outcomes in arthritis and other inflammatory disorders.