Supervisors: Dr. María Díez León and Dr Amanda Guthrie DVM (Zoological Society of London, ZSL) 

Department: Pathobiology and Population Sciences 

Project Details

Many zoo animals perform abnormal behaviours (AB) such as repetitive route-tracing or tongue rolling, raising concerns about their welfare. Causes for these behaviours can range from motivational frustration (e.g. inability to access resources) to neurological dysfunction, and vary both within and between individuals. However, pharmacological treatment of repetitive AB is applied generically and non-systematically - we currently lack evidence on whether the pharmacological agent of choice is addressing the underlying cause of the AB it aims to treat, or whether instead they reduce ABs by suppressing all behaviour. In addition we lack information on which specific drugs and doses are most effective. This represents a major knowledge gap for zoo veterinarians, who are left to extrapolate from domestic species, with important welfare implications. This project aims to improve evidence-based treatment of ABs in zoo animals by i) describing for the first time frequency, type, and dosage of psychotropic drugs used to treat them; ii) assess effectiveness of psychotropics used to treat different forms of ABs; and, iii) evaluate species differences in type and effectiveness of pharmacological agents used to treat ABs.  


  1. Díez-León et al. 2019. Neurophysiological correlates of stereotypic behaviour in a model carnivore species. Behaviour Brain Research 

  2. Holman 2016. Combination therapy with fluoxetine and alprazolam to control anxiety in a hand-reared snow leopard. J. Zoo Wildlife Medicine 

  3. Bandelli et al. 2023. The welfare problems of wide-ranging Carnivora reflect naturally itinerant lifestyles. Royal Soc. Open Letters. 

  4. Poulsen et al. 1996 Use of fluoxetine for the treatment of stereotypical pacing behavior in a captive polar bear. J Am Vet Med Assoc 



  • Must meet our standard MRes entry requirements including English Language
  • Relevant First Class or upper Second Class University honours Degree in Biological Sciences, Veterinary or Medicine.  
  • Highly motivated student with good time management, organisational, and communication skills. 
  • Good data analysis and problem-solving skills.


  • Neuroscience/Pharmacology background 
  • Animal behaviour/welfare background 

This can be taken full-time or part-time (12months FTE), project commencing in October 2024, based at Hawkshead campus and time spent at RVC's Regional Veterinary Centre - South of England. 


Self fundedThe MRes student will be expected to meet transportation costs between RVC and ZSL (when travel is required), laptop, course fees and their living expenses.

International applicants are welcome to apply but must be able to fund the difference between "Home" and "Overseas" tuition fees. Please note that EU/EEA and Swiss national students may no longer be eligible for the “Home” rate of tuition fees, dependent on personal circumstances (including immigration status and residence history in the UK) and UK government rules which are currently being developed. For up-to-date information on fees for EU/EEA and Swiss national students following Brexit please see our fees and funding page. 

How to Apply

For more information on the application process and English Language requirements see How to Apply.

Deadline: 1pm UK time, Friday 5th April

We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to Dr. María Díez León (

Interview date and location: TBC

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