Dr. Cathy Dwyer

Name : Dr Cathy Dwyer; PhD, BSc

Job title : Team Leader, and Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare

Specialist area : Mother-offspring interactions, prenatal development, parturition, welfare in extensively managed livestock

Department : Animal and Veterinary Sciences

Institute : Scotland's Rural College (SRUC)

Short introductory biography

Cathy Dwyer is originally from the south of England although she has spent more than a third of her life north of the border in Scotland. Cathy studied physiology at University of Bristol and then did her PhD at the Royal Veterinary College in London, studying nutritional and physiological interactions between mothers and their offspring before and after birth in pigs and laboratory animals. She won an OECD fellowship to Massey University in New Zealand to investigate prenatal factors influencing postnatal growth and development in mice, before moving up to Edinburgh and SRUC in 1994. At SRUC she joined the Animal Behaviour and Welfare Team and began working with sheep and the joys of studying behavioural as well as physiological interactions between mothers and their young. More recently Cathy has begun to delve into the intricacies of welfare issues in extensively managed animals and the thorny problem of how their welfare can be assessed. Cathy was appointed as Team Leader for the Animal Behaviour and Welfare Team, and awarded a professorship in 2011.

Research interests

Cathy has a long-standing research interest in understanding maternal behaviour, the interactions between mothers and their offspring, and offspring development, in a number of species (pigs, sheep, cattle, horses, guinea pigs, mice). This research has focussed on applied questions: initially looking at the impact of maternal undernutrition in pregnancy on muscle development, and more recently concentrating on the impacts of environmental and genetic factors influencing neonatal survival and development. In addition, Cathy has interest in more strategic questions in understanding the role of physiological and endocrine factors in mediating individual differences in maternal behaviour; the impact of variation in maternal care on offspring development, and the physiology of fetal and neonatal development. More recently Cathy has developed an interest in the welfare of extensively managed animals, which have been relatively neglected in research terms in comparison to more extensively managed species. This has focussed mainly on sheep, identifying particular welfare issues and developing methods to assess welfare.

Educational interests
Cathy has taught on the University of Edinburgh MSc in Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare since 1999, and is a Module co-organiser, a member of the teaching committee and sits on the exam board. She has also taught a number of undergraduate courses for SRUC and University of Edinburgh in Animal Science and Reproductive Biology. Cathy regularly supervises undergraduate and masters projects, and is currently supervising her 8th PhD student. Cathy also enjoys interacting with farmers, children and members of the public during knowledge exchange and science education, either through farm discussion groups, in participative research projects with farmers, at farm open days, at agricultural shows and through WISE to encourage girls to engage with science. She continues to learn from those interactions as well as attempting to inspire others with her passion for animal behaviour.   

Contribution to AWIN

Cathy is involved in WP1 and WP3. In WP1 she is working with her WP colleagues to develop welfare assessment protocols for sheep that will be valid and meaningful assessments of the welfare experience of sheep yet are practical and feasible to be applied in a diverse industry. In addition, Cathy has responsibility for reviewing methods to assess pain in all the species involved in the AWIN programme. In WP3 Cathy is involved in studies to assess the impact of variation in handling during pregnancy on maternal and offspring responses in sheep and goats.

Relevant activities and professional affiliations

Cathy is a member and regional secretary for UK/Ireland of the International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE), and a member of Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB), Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), the British Society for Animal Science (BSAS).

Recent publications

Dwyer, C.M. & Bünger, L. Factors affecting dystocia and offspring vigour in different sheep genotypes. Prevent Vet Med (in press).

Barrier, A.C., Ruelle, E., Haskell, M.H. & Dwyer, C.M. Effect of a difficult calving on the vigour of the calf, the onset of maternal behaviour, and some behavioural indicators of pain in the dam. Prevent Vet Med (in press).

Matheson, S.M., Rooke, J.A., McIlvaney, K.M., Ison, S., Jack, M., Bunger, L., Ashworth, C.J. & Dwyer, C.M. 2011. Development and validation of ‘on-farm’ behavioural scoring systems to assess birth assistance and lamb vigour. Animal 5: 776-783.

Pickup, H.E. & Dwyer, C.M. 2011. Breed differences in the expression of maternal care at parturition persist throughout the lactation period in sheep. Appl Anim Behav Sci 132: 33-41

Dwyer, C.M., Moinard, C., McIlvaney, K.M., Morgan, C.A. & Bunger, L. 2011. The effect of gestational undernutrition on maternal weight change and foetal weight in lines of mice selected for different growth characteristics. Brit J Nutr 105: 539-548.

Rooke, J.A., Houdijk, J.G.M., McIlvaney, K.M., Ashworth, C.J. & Dwyer, C.M. 2010. Differential effects of maternal nutrient restriction between days one and ninety of pregnancy on ewe and lamb performance and lamb parasitism of ewes in hill and lowland breeds. J Anim Sci 88: 3833-3842.

Conington, J., Collins, J., Dwyer, C.M. 2010. Selection for easier-managed sheep. Anim Welf 19 83-92.

Dwyer, C.M. 2009. Welfare of Sheep: Providing for welfare in an extensive environment. Small Rumin Res 86: 14-21.

Morgan, C.A., McIlvaney, K.M., Dwyer, C.M. & Lawrence, A.B. 2009. Welfare challenges to out-wintered pregnant suckler cows. Animal 3: 1167-1174.

Dwyer, C. M. 2008. Individual variation in the expression of maternal behaviour: a review of the neuroendocrine mechanisms in the sheep (Ovis aries). J Neuroendocrinol 20: 526-535



Cathy Dwyer - Interview