Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare

We study how companion animals are affected by their roles in society, including predicting, preventing and treating behaviour perceived as problematic by owners. We also develop new and better methods for training animals used in service roles and enhancing their welfare.

Companion animals are hugely important to many people as pets and in ‘service’ (e.g.  military dogs, medical detection and livestock guarding dogs). However, in these roles, they may suffer poor welfare or exhibit behaviour that is viewed negatively by owners and/or reflects underlying affective or cognitive disorder. Our clinical behavioural research aims to better understand the causes of such problems and to develop and test new and better treatments and preventive measures. We have the only centre approved by the European College to train veterinary residents in this field in the UK – one of only three in Europe – and we can use our on-site behavioural referral clinic to apply our research to tackling real-life cases.

We host the ground-breaking ‘Bristol Cats’ longitudinal cohort study of cat health, behaviour and welfare, now in its eighth year, and study the behaviour and welfare of companion animals in other contexts, such as their use for medical detection purposes.


Dr Emily Blackwell 
Senior Lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Dr Susan Horseman
Senior Lecturer in Clinical Companion Animal Behaviour

Dr Nicola Rooney 
Senior Lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation

Our work in this area involves collaboration with BVS researchers in Infection, Inflammation and Immunotherapy and Clinical Research We also have collaborations with researchers within and outside the wider University as detailed below.

Ongoing work and collaborators include

  • Bristol Rabbit Pain Scale a pain scale specific for rabbits to assess acute pain in a clinical environment. The BRPS allows the assessment of pain in both straight and lop-eared rabbits
  • Generation Pup, a ground-breaking study of the health, welfare and behaviour of dogs throughout their lives (in collaboration with Dogs Trust)
  • The Bristol Cats Study is a unique, world-leading study of the health, welfare and behaviour of pet cats throughout their lives (in collaboration with Cats Protection, Waltham Centre for pet nutrition, Zoetis, Professor Severine Tasker and Professor Tim Gruffydd- Jones)
  • Development, prediction and prevention of problematic behaviours such as specific fears, aggression and separation-related behaviour in companion animals (in collaboration with Professor Tony Buffington (UC Davis))
  • Controlled clinical trials to assess the efficacy of treatment interventions for problematic behaviours in dogs, cats and rabbits (in collaboration with Lintbells Ltd , PitPatPet Ltd and Unex Designs )
  • Influence of stress on diseases such as skin disease, gastro-intestinal health and epilepsy in companion animals (in collaboration with BSAVA Petsavers, BVA-AWF, Dr Aarti Kathrani (RVC) and Dr Rowena Packer (RVC))
  • Can early detection of osteoarthritis improve the quality of life of companion animals? (Collaborators: Dr Jo Murrell and Professor Sorrel Langley-Hobbs
  • Can Quality of Life scoring tools improve welfare? (Collaborator: Dr Jo Murrell)
  • Quantifying and ameliorating pain in companion rabbits in the veterinary environment (Collaborator: Jo Murrell)
  • How do dogs respond to changes in cortisol levels in conspecifics and humans? (Collaborators: Carsten Muller, University of Cardiff and Claire Guest, Medical Detection Dogs)

Recent publications

How Happy Are Equine Athletes? Stakeholder Perceptions of Equine Welfare Issues Associated with Equestrian Sport


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