Fundamental Science Underpinning Animal Welfare

We carry out fundamental research into animal behaviour, motivation, cognition and emotion that underpins animal welfare science, and develops new and better methods for animal welfare assessment.

Accurate assessment of animal welfare together with a better understanding of how animals perceive, respond to and are affected by welfare challenges, and how they make decisions that influence their future wellbeing / survival, are all essential to allow us to understand, measure, and predict the impact of housing and husbandry procedures on animal welfare. We address these questions through studies of animal behaviour, motivation, cognition, emotion, and pain perception, individual differences in ability to cope with challenge, and the links between behaviour and physiology, immunology and health. We increasingly analyse and model data using mathematical or computational approaches in order to reveal processes underlying behaviour and to develop automated methods for welfare assessment.

Our work thus involves collaboration with BVS researchers in Infection, Inflammation and Immunotherapy, Data Analytics, and Platform Technologies. We also have collaborations with researchers within and outside the wider University as detailed below.


Dr Jo Edgar
Research Associate

Dr Suzanne Held 
Senior Lecturer in Animal Science 

Professor Michael Mendl 
Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Dr Liz Paul 
Senior Research Fellow 

Ongoing work and collaborators include

  • Development and validation of measures of inactivity as indicators of affective state and welfare (Collaborator: Dr Carole Fureix (Co-I: Plymouth University))
  • Investigating links between markers of subclinical inflammation and behavioural, cognitive and emotional change (Collaborators: Dr Doug Wilson, Prof Andrew Dowsey (Bristol Veterinary School); Prof Andrew Janczak (Norwegian University of Life Sciences); Helena Telkanranta (University of Helsinki, Finland))
  • Understanding weaning behaviour and social dynamics in cattle to improve welfare, health and productivity (Collaborators: Dr Katharina Zipp (University of Kassel, Germany)
  • Understanding empathic responses in other species and their potential to improve animal welfare (Collaborator: Prof Christine Nicol (Royal Veterinary College), Jessie Adriaense (University of Vienna, Austria))
  • Understanding links between behavioural and cognitive markers of welfare, and the impact of experience on affective states (Collaborators: Prof Christine Nicol (PI): Royal Veterinary College); Prof Bill Browne (Graduate School of Education))
  • Development and validation of cognitive indicators of affective state using pharmacological approaches (Collaborator: Prof Emma Robinson (PI: Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience))
  • Development and validation of attention bias indicators of affect and welfare (Collaborators: Drs Carole Fureix (PI) and Ben Brilot, Sarah Kappel (Plymouth University))
  • Developing novel thermographic indicators of animal affect and welfare (Collaborator: Helena Telkanranta (University of Helsinki, Finland))
  • Using phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate the influence of species ecology on responses to captive conditions and welfare (Collaborators: Prof Innes Cuthill (Biological Sciences); Prof Georgia Mason (University of Guelph, Canada))
  • Investigating the influence of olfactory cues on anxiety-like states (Collaborators: Dr Pete Brennan (PI) and Prof Emma Robinson (Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience), Prof Stafford Lightman (Bristol Medical School))
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