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Animal Health

Research theme: Sustainable Futures

School: School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences


The Animal Health 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

Equine Health and Performance

image of horse

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.


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.

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.

Zoo Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Student with animal

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:

  • Surface structure and its impact on the performance and well-being of equine athletes (Dr Alison Northrop)
  • 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)