Skip to content
Birds in Nest

Animal Behaviour, Performance and Welfare

Group
  • Research theme: Sustainable Futures
  • School: School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences

Overview

The Animal Performance Behaviour and Welfare group comprises of research-focussed staff, post-doctoral and associate researchers and a vibrant PhD community. Our mission is to be a centre of excellence for the study and advancement of society’s understanding of the human-animal interface.

Our internationally important research focuses on understanding and improving the experiences of zoo, companion and performance animals. Using a range of innovative quantitative and qualitative methodologies we gain insight into animal behaviour, applied and fundamental biology, and the relationships between animals and people. Our work is used to inform relevant stakeholders, from charities and NGOs to professional bodies and industry. Our staff are members of professional organisations such as the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the International Society for Applied Ethology. They are also expert contributors and editors for both popular and academic publications.

Research areas:

  • Equine sport performance
  • Human-companion animal relationships
  • Human-wildlife conflict
  • Development of novel methods to assess well-being in animals
  • Educational impacts and human behaviour change
  • Dog welfare and sport performance
  • Equine health and allergies
  • Animal nutrition
  • Reproduction and genetics
  • Health and disease in captive apes
image of horse

Equine Health and Performance

Our research group has a substantial presence in the sphere of equine health, performance and well-being. We have produced world-leading research on severe equine asthma, a common issue in stabled horses. Using a microarray platform and mathematical modelling Dr. Samuel White was able to identify and diagnose severe equine asthma. Results showed that latex, a common component of artificial surfaces in the equine world, was a major contributor to the disease.

Dr Alison Northrop, in conjunction with the Horserace Betting Levy Board, has identified that temperature significantly affects the properties of artificial racing surfaces. At colder temperatures the surface was harder and more resistant, indicating that there may be a higher chance of musculoskeletal injury during events. Her findings can help improve maintenance protocols relative to temperature changes, protecting the well-being of equine athletes.

person with dog

Companion Animal Welfare

In general, our work exploring the welfare of companion animals has helped inform changes to management practices, especially as they relate to cats and dogs. Key to making these changes is our focus on understanding the applied nature of the problem. We believe that, to improve the well-being of companion animals you also need to understand and adapt to the complex associations among animals, their environments and their owners.

Dogs and cats are the most common pets in the UK, numbering around 20 million individuals. Therefore, changes to management and breeding of companion animals can have an enormous impact on improving welfare. Within our research group there are a number of applied projects (Associate Professor Mark Farnworth; Dr. Lauren Finka) intended to inform and change owner-decisions and behaviours to maximise well-being, including understanding the management of cats’ access to outdoors, impacts of cat-human interactions and problems associated with increases in dog and cat breeds with inherited disorders.

We are also exploring canine heatstroke which, although a preventable condition, is likely to increase as global temperatures rise. Using veterinary records, monitoring of canine athletes and non-invasive measurement techniques, our group’s researchers (Emily Hall MRCVS and Dr. Anne Carter) aim to identify dogs most at risk and the common causes and welfare impacts of the condition. Our findings will support veterinary professionals and dog owners in developing strategies to reduce heatstroke risk.

Our applied research is pushing back the boundaries of companion animal welfare and will help in the development of educational programmes and resources, for owners, industry professionals and organisations, improving the well-being of our pets at the population level.

Student with animal

Zoo Animal Behaviour and Welfare

We investigate the implications of zoo housing on animal behaviour and welfare. This includes exploring animal interactions with visitors and keepers, and the impacts of animal husbandry routines and animal management techniques. Our research aims to improve zoo animal welfare. Dr Samantha Ward has extensively researched keeper-animal interactions and husbandry techniques and published both books and journal articles on the implications of animal training. Dr Charlotte James’ research investigates the impacts of UV lighting on reptile and bird welfare. Our internationally applied research helps zoos to make evidence-based decisions when optimising the management and housing of zoo animals.

Our current research projects include:

  • Use of Animal Ambassadors in Zoos and their value for conservation education (Research Associate Sarah Spooner; Dr Katherine Whitehouse-Tedd)
  • Understanding cat management decisions to improve cat welfare (Rae Foreman-Worsley (PhD candidate); Dr Lauren Finka; Associate Professor Mark Farnworth; funded by the New Zealand Companion Animal Foundation; Battersea Dogs and Cats Home; Cats Protection)
  • Hot Dogs – the epidemiology of canine heat stroke presenting to UK primary care veterinary practices (Emily Hall MRCVS; Dr Anne Carter and Royal Veterinary College; funded by Dogs Trust Canine Welfare Grants)
  • Surface structure and its impact on the performance and well-being of equine athletes (Dr Alison Northrop)
  • Pedigree breeding and owner breed choices in dogs and cats and their impact on animal health and well-being (Associate Professor Mark Farnworth and Royal Veterinary College)
  • Genetics and breeding of rare horse breeds (Professor Philippe Wilson; Dr Kelly Yarnell; Dr Gareth Starbuck)
  • The value, use and impact of training on captive wild (zoo) animals (Dr. Samantha Ward)
  • The identification of novel recombinant allergen involved in Insect bite Hypersensitivity, and efficacy of immunotherapy (Dr Samuel White and University of Bern)
  • Morbidity and mortality of captive great apes. (Dr. Victoria Strong MRCVS; Twycross Zoo; EAZA great ape TAG and University of Nottingham)

Visiting Academics

  • Honorary Professor Dr Pat Harris MA, VetMB, PhD, DipECVCN MRCVS
  • Professor Hilary Clayton (BVMS, PhD, Diplomate, ACVSMR Professor and Mary Anne McPhail Dressage Chair Emerita)
  • Honorary Professor Ellen Dierenfeld (E.S. Dierenfeld Consultancy, LLC; comparative animal nutritionist)
  • Visiting Fellow Jeremy Kemp-Symonds (BA (Hons), BSc (Hons), MSc, BVMS, PGCHE, MRSB, AFHEA, MRCVS, Veterinary Consultant)

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418