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Animal Welfare Research Network: Companion Animal Welfare Science Workshop - December 2019

Animal Welfare Research Network: Companion Animal Welfare Science Workshop - December 2019


Research Team (Cohort Studies) manager Jane Murray was invited to give a presentation at the Animal Welfare Research Network (AWRN) Companion Animal Welfare Science (CAWS) Workshop at the Royal Veterinary College. In this blog post she reflects on the workshop and gives a brief summary of the presentation she gave on the topic of cohort studies.

Companion Animal Welfare Science Workshop – what was it all about?

The aim of the CAWS workshop was to bring together researchers from the UK conducting companion animal welfare science and highlight emerging techniques, opportunities for industrial partnerships and increase collaboration. The workshop was organised by Dr Rowena Packer (Royal Veterinary College (RVC)) and Dr Lucy Asher (Newcastle University).

The morning and early part of the afternoon were dedicated to a series of short presentations which outlined a variety of research techniques and large studies in the field of companion animal welfare research.

Presentation topics relating to methods for collecting CAW data at the individual level included:

  • ‘What can automated methods of behaviour measurement offer to CAWS?’ (Dr Lucy Asher, Newcastle University)
  • ‘What can facial expression analysis offer to CAWS?’ (Dr Lauren Finka, Nottingham Trent University)
  • ‘What can psychometric tool development offer to CAWS?’ (Prof Daniel Mills, University of Lincoln)
  • ‘What can novel cognitive measures offer to CAWS?’ (Prof Oliver Burnam, University of Lincoln)
  • ‘What can measures of brain structure and function offer to CAWS?’ (Dr Rowena Packer, RVC)
  • ‘BBSRC funding opportunities for CAWS’ (Luke Williams, BBSRC).

Presentation topics relating to methods for collecting CAW data at the group level included:

  • ‘Using veterinary practice data to understand CAW issues’ (Dr Dan O’Neill, RVC)
  • ‘Using longitudinal cohort studies to understand CAW?’ (Dr Jane Murray, Dogs Trust)
  • ‘Using veterinary practice data to identify risks to CAW’ (Dr Alan Radford, University of Liverpool)
  • ‘Epidemiological methods for studying human animal interactions’ (Dr Carrie Westgarth, University of Liverpool).

Cohort studies: The advantages of using prospective data, (rather than data collected retrospectively) in analysis conducted within these longitudinal studies was discussed. Cohort studies enable the study of multiple health/behaviour outcomes and this was illustrated by the extensive publication records of studies such as ALSPAC (‘Children of the 90’s). The Generation Pup study is the first study to follow the health and behaviour of dogs of all breeds throughout their lives and has enormous potential to produce results that can be used to improve the health and welfare of dogs in the future.

Following the presentations, attendees split into two breakout groups to discuss barriers and opportunities for collaborative funding applications and academic-industry/charity projects, as well as exploring grant opportunities and mentorship needs for early career researchers. Luke Williams (Science Strategy team at BBSRC, with responsibility for the area of Animal Welfare) explained that BBSRC funding was available for CAW research and that the term ‘industry partners’ can include ‘charity partners’. Within the workshops, University researchers expressed interest in working with Dogs Trust and accessing our data in collaborative projects. These discussions were useful and very timely as the research team are currently in the process of reviewing undergraduate and postgraduate student projects that involve Dogs Trust datasets. It was suggested that future AWRN meetings should be held to help facilitate discussions around potential collaborations and maintain communication.  

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