Do Animals Have Feelings?

Do Animals Have Feelings?

Yes! Let's discover what animals feel and how they show it to us. Sweet big eyes looking at us, purring that melts our hearts, but also wildly wagging tails, joyful chirping, and other behaviors that are nothing short of special...

Yes, animals have feelings, and science increasingly agrees that the emotions they experience go well beyond their survival instinct.

The crux of the matter is this: we humans interpret the feelings and emotions of animals based on how they behave towards us and their own kind.

In other words, we infer that animals have feelings because we observe their actions and reactions and draw 'emotional' conclusions from them. For example: if our pet enthusiastically runs towards us and licks us from head to toe, we can only deduce that it is happy, or if we see a bird taking a bath in a fountain, we may think it is serene and relaxed. Perhaps we observe the hamster running on its wheel and smile because we think it is playing and therefore experiencing joy, because it is having a great time.

Or when we watch goldfish brushing against each other in the bowl, we think they are celebrating Valentine's Day.

In all these moments, we reflect behaviors that belong to us onto our animals, deducing that they are experiencing very specific emotions, such as joy, serenity, happiness, and even love.

But is it really so?

Do animals have feelings similar to those we humans experience?

And if so, do animals express their feelings just like we do?

A hug worth more than a thousand words.

Do animals have feelings like humans?

Joy, euphoria, unconditional love. But also empathy, forgiveness, and generosity.

And, conversely, pain, anger, suffering... Just by reading one of these states, we can affirm that animals have feelings, because we see it and perceive it every day with the four-legged hearts that accompany our lives.

And we can see and understand that animals have feelings even when we watch a movie, a TV series, or even better, a documentary where they (and their feelings) are the protagonists.

How could we forget the elegant posture of the dog Hachiko waiting for his owner at the train station?

Or the protective gaze of the cat Bob towards his fragile human friend in the movie "A Street Cat Named Bob"?

We could mention many movies or TV series where animals tell us and show us their feelings and emotions, and today we are talking precisely about this, relying on some scientific research that has studied and deepened whether animals experience feelings, how, and to what extent.

How much affection does the gaze of this little furball convey?

The emotions of animals and emotional intelligence

As human beings, we are endowed with emotional intelligence, that is, the ability to understand, manage, and utilize our feelings and emotions, to communicate better and also to alleviate stressful situations.

In this article dedicated to the language of dogs, we have seen how four-legged hearts have inherited from wolves the ability and willingness to resolve risky situations, so their behavior is always aimed at bringing peace and serenity.

This, therefore, is a clear confirmation that animals have feelings and that their way of acting is driven by an 'emotional planet', just as it happens for us humans.

Animals like mammals, fish, and birds are indeed endowed with sensitivity, which means that they use "emotional" information for many purposes. Among these are primary ones, such as finding the food resources they need, defending themselves from predators and protecting their territory, but also establishing social bonds, both among themselves and with us humans.

There is a declaration of love in the eyes of this sweet Bernese Mountain Dog.

Animals have feelings and they constantly show it to us.

As human beings, we have different ways of expressing the feelings we experience.

When we laugh heartily, we are happy; when we cry, we are very sad; when we are tense, we make faces, and in general, our whole body expresses the emotions and feelings we are experiencing at that moment.

But how do animals show their feelings? More or less like us, with their bodies. Researchers and scholars have indeed learned to assess physiological parameters and even 'translate' the body language of the animal.

Everything in an animal speaks of emotions and feelings, from the dog's wagging tail when it is agitated, to the cat's tail forming a question mark when it is decidedly happy.

These examples are familiar to us because they belong to the furry ones who live with us, but, for example, large primates laugh heartily while playing with each other because they experience joy, mice emit a squeak and hop when they are happy, while when horses feel sad and suffer from loneliness they can pull back their ears or perform the so-called 'bear dance', repeatedly moving their head from side to side.

The point is, to understand if animals have feelings like those we experience, we must remember two fundamental things:

The first is that in them, the survival instinct is strong and active, and this can generate specific emotions and feelings, linked precisely to the ancestral need to survive.

The second is that there are primary emotions that researchers have defined based on Darwin's studies such as joy, anger, disgust, sadness, fear, and surprise.

Then there are secondary emotions, which are more complex, originating from primary emotions but developing mainly in adulthood. Examples of difficult secondary emotions are shame, envy, jealousy, guilt, offense, anxiety, disappointment, and nostalgia, while positive secondary emotions are hope, relief, and forgiveness.

The fact that animals have feelings or experience primary emotions has been deeply studied and therefore proven.

It is less so, because it is more complex, the fact that creatures can experience more articulated emotions.

Let's delve into this specific topic on the feelings of animals.

With cuddles, we can convey serenity and love to our pets.

Science confirms that animals have feelings.

According to the American psychologist Jaak Panksepp, for animals, feelings are like a traffic light linked to their survival capacity.

Negative emotions such as fear or sadness turn on a red light, warning them that they are entering a zone where their survival could be at risk.

Conversely, positive feelings such as happiness and joy turn on a green light, indicating that everything is going well.

This explanation is linked to animals' most primal, ancestral references. Their ability to experience feelings is also confirmed by a study conducted by researchers at Queen's University Belfast.

In this case, the researchers defined that animals experience positive feelings when they achieve success and feel pessimistic in case of defeat.

What does this mean?

The researchers analyzed studies based on how animals behave when they are acquiring resources or mates, to verify the role feelings play in these processes. They therefore defined that the animals' feelings and moods play a fundamental role in their decisions.

For example, animals that had overcome a challenge were more motivated to confront their peers in future situations, while animals that came out defeated were more demotivated.

Such examples demonstrate that animals have complex feelings, but also that these play a very important role in their lives, as is the case for us humans!

A paw handshake, sealing a great friendship.

And do dogs have feelings?

How many times have we wondered if dogs have feelings? How many times, leaving home, have they looked at us askance, and we've thought, "I wonder if they'll be sad without me"? Or have we thought about how happy they'll be when we return home?

Drumroll please...the answer is, of course: absolutely!

Besides experiencing joy, sadness, fear, happiness, in short, a range of feelings and emotions that we humans recognize very well, our furry friends are also capable of recognizing what we feel.

An article by Claudia Negrisolo, edited by the scientific team of Kodami and validated by Luca Spennacchio, confirms indeed that dogs have feelings and cites a study conducted in 2022 by Paola Valsecchi, Professor of Applied Ethology at the University of Parma.

This study hypothesizes that our furry friends are actually able to go beyond primary emotions (joy, sadness, anger, disgust, fear or anxiety, surprise) and experience complex emotions such as jealousy.

We always start from the idea that feelings in animals, just like in humans, are an inner universe through which the world is interpreted, a kind of compass that guides behaviors.

For example, if we feel fear, we can withdraw into ourselves, choose to flee, or even attack, just as if we're angry, we can argue or fight or, if we're very happy, feel such strong emotions that we cry tears of joy or hug someone...

The subject of feelings is very complex and fascinating; after all, it involves physical, cognitive (related to the process of knowledge and behavior), and social processes. Feelings also profoundly influence memory, both in humans and in our furry friends. When a dog is in a state of fear or agitation, it may struggle to respond to its pet mate's call, whereas when it is calm and joyful, it is more predisposed to listen.

That's why, in modern dog training, education is based fundamentally on the psycho-physical well-being of the animal because, in most cases, problematic or "dangerous" behavior is nothing more than a manifestation of discomfort.

After this hug, how can we say that dogs don't have feelings?

A very interesting question is this: can we define the feelings of animals, and in this case, of dogs, as positive or negative?

In this case too, there are different schools of thought. Some define that no emotion is inherently negative, but it can become so when we fail to manage it.

For example, fear leads to caution, without sadness one could not know joy... so every emotion has a purpose and a consequence!

This leads us to think that, knowing that animals have feelings, we also know that they naturally have a personality.

As mentioned, in addition to experiencing feelings, dogs can also understand those of humans. They can indeed build an unbreakable bond that leads to real harmony.

Among the various studies on this topic, one stands out, conducted by the University of Lincoln (UK). In this study, dogs were presented with human facial expressions and those of other dogs related to emotions of happiness and joy or fear and aggression, accompanied by individual vocalizations associated with the same emotions. It was noticed that dogs observed faces with vocalizations consistent with the expression much longer, an ability previously recognized only in humans. These results demonstrated that dogs can recognize bimodal sensory information, but above all, discriminate between positive and negative emotions both in humans and in conspecifics, and consequently emit different behaviors based on the emotions and reactions of humans accompanying them.

This can scientifically explain what we may already know, namely, if a dog lives with balanced people who show love to them, it can, in turn, be a balanced dog that shows love to its pet mate.

For example, have you ever jumped for joy in the house because of important news and seen your Fido rise on two legs and wag its tail happily?

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

A study conducted by the Department of Biology at the University of Naples analyzed the impact of human emotional signals on dog behavior, demonstrating that dogs activate stress-related behaviors when they smell the odor of a frightened human. This helps us understand the importance of emotional communication for the dog and how this aspect can also impact its well-being.

We know that fear is an emotion that can also be experienced due to ancestral heritage, i.e., as humans, we have inherited it from the times when our ancestors had to defend themselves from wild animals and natural disasters.

Today, even if there are no tigers waiting for us at the traffic lights, we still experience fear for events and situations, often in disproportionate amounts, and this can be one of the major sources of anxiety and stress.

So it's easy to understand our four-legged hearts, because living with us humans, sometimes hyper-stressed by everyday situations, they can also manifest this emotional discomfort.

A last, amazing research, conducted by the University of London, also demonstrates that animals have feelings, and in particular, that dogs are inclined towards altruism.

According to this analysis, pets are indeed capable of connecting with the emotional state of humans almost instantly, and some breeds, in particular, immediately show the willingness to help and provide comfort if they sense that the human needs it, underscoring the enormity of these sensitive and wonderful creatures.

Do cats have feelings? The answer lies in the gaze of this cuddly feline.

Do cats have feelings?

At this moment, cat lovers might be rolling their eyes and saying, "What kind of question is that? Of course, cats have feelings! Otherwise, how do you explain those purrs, those little licks on the forehead, and those languid looks that make Puss in Boots from Shrek look like a beginner?"

So, the answer is yes: cats definitely have feelings and emotions.

Naturally, they experience those primary emotions, as defined by Darwin, such as joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise, which facilitate survival.

But they also experience other emotions, which we can call secondary, among them empathy, the ability to perfectly understand the emotions we humans are feeling at that moment.

Some attribute this ability to the magical nature of these felines, but a study published in Current Biology tells us that cats form very close emotional bonds with their human caregivers and, based on these bonds, they are able to interpret the emotions of others.

However, the manifestations must be clear.

Anyone who has a cat and has experienced a moment of deep sadness or distress will have, at least once, the experience of seeing their cat stealthily approaching and getting closer in a way that only it knows how. This may be a sign that the kitty needs to better understand what's going on, and then it will cuddle up next to the human and start purring.

As with all animals, much depends on the personality of the cat and its degree of socialization... or can we say, its personality?

Yes, because we have seen that animals have feelings, which generate what is a true personality.

In this case, if the cat sees us suffering and approaches, it first wants to 'see things clearly,' and then, once it understands that we are suffering, it probably shows us its closeness, which is a real medicine for the hearts of us humans.

Maybe these two turtles are giving each other a kiss?

Do turtles have feelings?

Turtles may seem a bit indecipherable, but since we've established that animals have feelings, these extraordinary and long-lived creatures are no exception.

According to research published in the National Library of Medicine, there are numerous studies asserting that reptiles can experience emotions and states such as anxiety, stress, excitement, and even fear. In particular, the research has focused on analyzing other studies conducted over time, confirming that turtles and reptiles in general undergo strong emotional fluctuations when they are in a state of captivity, for example, in a pet store.

How do they manifest their feelings? Some studies have found that turtles increase their heart rate, which is interpreted as a real emotional upheaval. Even when handled gently, turtles and iguanas have shown an increase in heart rate, which can be translated as an indicator of emotional stress.

This once again demonstrates that animals have feelings, in this case, primary ones like fear.

Given the leap, this little goldfish is in a hurry to reach its love.

Do fish have feelings?

We have now widely understood that animals have feelings, but for some species, it is more difficult to recognize them. Fish are among these because they inhabit an environment very different from ours with their own laws, and their way of communicating is very different from that of other animals such as mammals.

For a long time, it was unfortunately thought that fish did not have feelings, but over the years, scientific research (University of Calgary) has delved into, and now also demonstrated, the ability of fish to detect fear in their peers and to experience it themselves.

This ability is regulated by oxytocin, one of the hormones of well-being that is the basis of empathy even in humans.

Staying in the aquatic environment, one of the fish associated with more emotions is the octopus.

After a long study, the University of San Francisco has defined that despite being invertebrates, octopuses feel pain like mammals and have a complex emotional system.

The fact that these incredible animals have three hearts and possess superb intelligence may suggest that they have feelings, but the issue is quite complex because it concerns animal intelligence compared to human intelligence.

There are frequent news stories of octopuses in captivity managing to escape even from the most peculiar situations, given their ability to squeeze through improbable spaces, lift heavy weights, and even find escape routes.

Because octopuses certainly do not like captivity.

According to a report in L'Internazionale, at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, an octopus was released because it was causing short circuits by spraying water against the aquarium lights.

Could we reasonably say that the octopus was angry about its condition and reacted accordingly?

Science is cautious about this, but in this regard, the story of cephalopod researcher Jean Boal is interesting. The researcher was giving a thawed squid to an octopus, even though it was not among its favorite foods, on the contrary. Instead of eating it, the octopus grabbed it with a tentacle and, looking at her, threw it into the drainpipe.

There is considerable intelligence behind this behavior, but there is still a long way to go before we can say that octopuses have feelings. They are certainly among the most special creatures in the world!

When dogs experience pain, they tell us in many ways, and their gaze is one of them.

Do animals not feel pain?

Everything we have seen so far suggests that animals experience emotions, including pain.

Many people wonder if animals don't feel pain, the answer is yes, they do feel it and express it in their own way.

Certainly, we know that if the cause of suffering is addressed, the behavior can naturally improve.

The point is that it is up to humans to understand that animals are suffering and act accordingly because they obviously cannot tell us if they are experiencing physical or emotional discomfort.

Therefore, we must observe them, refine our empathy, spend time with them, and analyze any behavioral anomalies in order to act and, if it is physical pain, seek support from a trusted veterinarian to alleviate the pain in animals and try to solve the problem.

Emotional pain, on the other hand, is difficult to recognize, only by looking into the eyes of our four-legged hearts, and with extreme sensitivity and empathy, will we be able to understand if they are suffering.

What an irresistible laugh... how much joy is this little furry one experiencing?

Animal Feelings and Evolution

Now that we have seen some studies on the fact that animals have feelings, it is interesting to define that what they experience, especially in the case of our pets, is still governed by a brain system different from that of humans.

Never as in this case can we say that emotions in animals are fundamental tools to ensure survival.

In humans, this has been lost through evolution, while in animals, it is essential to make the right decision at the right time because it serves to protect oneself, to form bonds, in short, to survive.

However, there is one last aspect that deserves to be addressed because it has to do with the strongest of feelings, with the force that can move the world and regulate everything: love.

The way these two splendid horses touch each other suggests a world of love.

Do animals fall in love?

We might think that animals mate only for reproductive purposes, but since animals have feelings, isn't it reasonable to think that they also fall in love?

As seen, it is always good to separate emotions and understand them differently from those we humans experience because cognitive processes, related to knowledge, are different.

However, how many times have we seen dogs exchanging gestures of love even without purely reproductive purposes? And what about ducks and geese, or wolves, among which strong couple bonds are formed that last a lifetime?

Unlike primary emotions, such as fear, which manifest openly with clear behaviors like facial expressions, lowering of the ears, or fleeing action, love is not an emotion that is so recognizable from the outside.

Love is an inner state, and only those who experience it can attempt to explain it. It is true that we humans cannot even do that!

Yet, if animals have feelings so strong that they stay together for years, this can probably be a form of love.

Just as it can be love that the furry one feels towards us, especially when we show them the same feeling.

Think about the bond with our pet, how often do we find them glued to us for hours?

We already know that animals have feelings and experience even very complex emotions, and now we have certainty thanks to science, although deep down in our hearts, we knew it.

What do we need this confirmation for? To try never to make animals suffer, to help them always feel better, and to try to understand them, respect them, and love them as they deserve for all the great unconditional affection they show us every day.

Article drafted with the consultancy of Chiara Festelli , Dog Trainer.

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