Animal Behaviour, Performance & Welfare

The group focuses on research aimed at improving the welfare of captive, companion, and performance animals. This multi-disciplinary group includes specialists in the assessment of animal health and welfare using a range of concepts and methodologies.

Overview

The group focuses on human-animal interactions with the aim of advancing improvements in the conditions and welfare of animals. The team brings together specialists in animal nutrition and feeding behaviour, parasitology, reproductive physiology, animal cognition and perception, and equestrian sports performance in order to achieve this goal.

Research Areas

  • Captive species (human-animal interactions, nutrition, personality profiling, housing and husbandry)
  • Sustainable equine management (housing and husbandry, feeding behaviour, activity monitoring, bedding, transport)
  • Sustainable equestrian performance (vision in equestrian sport, horse-rider interaction, equestrian surfaces, non-invasive measures of stress)
  • Canine health and performance (biomechanics of agility dogs, heat stress and temperature monitoring, genetic profiling for disease susceptibility, breed / individual differences and behavioural problems)

Case Studies

Dr Jacqueline Boyd, Emily Birch, Dr Anne Carter

Canine researchers at NTU have published research that has resulted in changes in the Kennel Club regulations governing jump placement in agility dog classes. Their findings in relation to jump kinematics and apparent joint angulation has led to the Kennel Club amending the distances between obstacles that dogs have to negotiate in agility. The minimum distance between obstacles has been changed from 3.6m to 5m with the inclusion of a maximum distance of 10m. The amendment addresses concerns raised by the agility community in regards to the health and welfare of dogs competing in this discipline. The research indicated that increasing the distance between obstacles could reduce hyperflexion and extension of the neck and shoulder joint and reduce the risk of injury to dogs while competing. This amendment came into effect on 1st January 2017.

In Partnership with The Kennel Club, NTU has developed a Canine Centre of Excellence. The partnership is passionate about developing research driven activities that promote the highest welfare for dogs and owners alike. For details about other canine research please visit the research page of the Canine Centre website.

Evidence-based feeding guidelines for captive cheetahs

Dr. Katherine Whitehouse-Tedd

Summary

Cheetahs are declining dramatically across their already shrunken natural range. Threats from habitat loss and persecution in human-wildlife conflict areas are among the main causes for this decline. Captive breeding programmes have been established in an attempt to provide ex-situ conservation support, but these programmes are not yet self-sustaining and the successful reintroduction of cheetahs from captive bred stock is still a long way off.  A major concern facing the ex-situ population of cheetahs is gastrointestinal disease. This affects the majority of the North American population, and over half of the European population. These diseases, especially gastritis, are rare, if at all present, in free-ranging cheetah populations. Therefore, environmental and/or management factors are likely responsible for the high incidence of this disease.  Dr. Whitehouse-Tedd has been collaborating with scientists around the world in an effort to better understand the role of diet in the health and welfare of captive cheetahs. Specifically, the research team have been investigating the influence of ‘animal fibre’ on gut function, health, and welfare. The work has culminated in recent updates and revisions to regional zoo association feeding guidelines, whereby evidence generated by Dr. Whitehouse-Tedd and her colleagues is being used to inform best practice.

Impact

In collaboration with colleagues in Europe and North America, Dr. Whitehouse-Tedd’s research has been incorporated into the EAZA Best Practice Guidelines, and the SSP Animal Care Manual nutrition chapters in their latest updated versions (2017).  Findings from Dr. Whitehouse-Tedd’s recent epidemiological survey of captive cheetah diet and gastrointestinal health, along with those of her PhD student’s work (Dr. Depauw) were integral to the revised feeding guidelines. Recommendations to increase the use of carcass components when feeding captive cheetahs were based on empirical and epidemiological evidence advocating the beneficial role of whole prey and/or skeletal components in reducing gastrointestinal disease. For example, feeding whole rabbits was shown to reduce the production of detrimental putrefactive factors, compared to when cheetahs were fed supplemented beef (Depauw et al., 2013). Stool consistency also improved and inflammatory biomarkers were reduced (Depauw et al., 2013; 2014), but long-term feeding of single prey items was not supported due to the potential overdose of vitamin A provided by the daily inclusion of liver (Depauw et al., 2012). Dr. Whitehouse-Tedd was also the invited lead author on a chapter in the prestigious “Biodiversity of the World: Conservation from Genes to Landscapes” series, in which our current understanding of the nutritional considerations for captive cheetahs was reviewed.

Projects

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