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I am a Senior Lecturer in Animal Welfare and Behaviour Science at The Royal Veterinary College, and am interested in animals' sensory perception, their behaviour and communication, the evolution of emotions, and making concrete improvements to animal welfare.

I joined the Animal Welfare Science and Ethics group (previously Centre for Animal Welfare) at the Royal Veterinary College in December 2008, initially to take up a Research Fellowship in Animal Welfare, and I became a Lecturer in October 2010. In 2014, I became Deputy Head of our research group and Leader of the BSc in Biological Sciences (Animal Behaviour, Welfare and Ethics)

I use a combination of experimental and epidemiological techniques to help identify risk factors for abnormal behaviour and poor welfare in diverse captive animals. My aim is to make real-world impact to improve animal welfare, and many of my findings have entered relevant legal guidelines or animal welfare policies internationally. In 2012, I was awarded an early career research prize for scientific contributions towards animal welfare by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW).

My current research themes include: 
  • Laboratory rodent welfare - Much of my research focuses on practical ways to refine the way that animals are used in research, so that their welfare and their normalcy is maximised. Thus far, I have focussed on improving husbandry, because this affects rodents both inside and outside experiments whatever they are being used for, so that as many individuals can benefit as possible.
    My own DPhil aimed to improve husbandry for laboratory rats, including their accounting for their sensory perception, and improving cage-cleaning, bedding use, and handling methods. My PhD students have since included
    Noelia Lopez-Salesansky, who is investigating how common odours in the laboratory environment affect mouse welfare, and Ayu Mazlan (with Prof. Nic Wells), who has been evaluating how identification marking methods affect laboratory mouse welfare and behaviour.

  • Dairy cow welfare - I recently co-supervised Dr Kate Johnson (with Prof. Claire Wathes), who investigated predictors of the excessively high rates of calf mortality from preventable diseases in the UK, and Dr Sophie Collins (with Prof. Christopher Wathes, Dr Nick Bell and Dr Jackie Cardwell), who refinined welfare assessment methods for dairy cows.

  • Companion dog welfare - My research on dogs can be split into two overlapping sub-themes: improving the breeding of healthy dogs, and improving human understanding of canine behaviour.
    My previous PhD student, Rowena Packer, (co-supervised by Anke Hendricks) worked to determine safe limits for the extreme body conformations seen in some domestic dogs. In particular, we found that dogs with longer backs and shorter legs have an increased risk of slipped discs, and those with shorter muzzles are disproportionately more prone to a debilitating obstructive breathing disorder and painful eye ulcers. Since then, my Masters in Research students Sara Cibellis and Monica Anghaei, have researched the effects of the breathing obstructive syndrome on dog physiology and behaviour, discovering at what severity it really starts to impact on canine quality of life. This will help breeders and owners to select for healthier, happier dogs.
    Examples of research into understanding canine behaviour have so far included a study into the implications of seemingly funny tail-chasing behaviour for dog welfare - sometimes it is playful, but if persistent, it can indicate some serious conditions that people rarely recognize. Also, with Siobhan Abeyesinghe and Holger Volk, I co-supervised Emma Buckland's PhD investigating objective and subjective indicators of positive welfare in dogs, which revealed the complexity of canine signalling and raised many questions

  • Welfare of exotic animals - I lead a number of Masters and other projects that aim to improve welfare in diverse other species. For example, Mhairi Flemming identified behavioural signs of highly prevalent dental pain in Sunbears; Graham Duggan revealed the importance of providing browse to zoo giraffes, even at night, to reduce their abnormal behaviour; and Pamela Shields, Jamie Enright and Bianca MacCallum have worked with me to improve the housing and veterinary care of pet rabbits.
  • During my post-doctoral project at the University of Bristol I investigated the welfare of working equids (horses, mules and donkeys) in developing countries, using a variety of epidemiological techniques. The work was funded by The Brooke Hospital for Animals, and my research group at Bristol was headed by Dr Becky Whay.

    My DPhil, which was awarded in 2006, was in the Animal Behaviour Research Group at the University of Oxford. My project was aimed at discovering how to improve the conditions that laboratory rats are kept in, and it was funded by the UK Home Office. My supervisor was Prof. Georgia Mason, Canada Research Chair in (Food) Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph.

    I completed an M.Sc. in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Edinburgh, where my dissertation was on coping and aggression in pigs, and a B.A. in Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford. I am also interested in animal cognition, tying in with my husband, Alex Weir's Research.