Have you ever wondered, do animals feel pain? Having had a dog, I have often wondered whether or not it could feel physical and even emotional pain. This question is one that is hard to resolve because everyone and everything feels pain differently, so is there any way to prove that animals do or do not feel the pain that we do?
An article from Lynne Sneddon of the Wellcome Trust suggests that they can seeing that they “share similar mechanisms of pain detection, have similar areas of the brain involved in processing pain and show similar pain behaviors…” However, the article also notes that it is “notoriously difficult to assess how animals actually experience pain” (Sneddon). It is important to add that pain is extremely important as it causes whatever has been injured to be more cautious of that area, preventing further damage. Sneddon’s article also mentions nociceptive nerves that can differentiate damage from pain (Sneddon). These are found in vertebrates and invertebrates, although invertebrates are “capable only of stimulus-response reactions and lack the necessary brain system that vertebrates have to process pain” (Sneddon). So do all vertebrates then feel pain?
Invertebrates, like this snail, lack the brain function to process pain. (picture from wisegreek.org)
The information from these nerves are then transferred from the brain “down the nervous system to alter the intensity of pain” (Sneddon). Sneddon’s article also states that “all vertebrates possess the primitive areas of the brain to process nociceptive information, namely the medulla, thalamus and limbic system.” This makes it entirely possibly that animals and humans could feel pain alike. However, the article goes on to say that humans have a larger cortex than other mammals, which is a crucial area of the brain for detecting pain (Sneddon). Behavioral changes also suggest that animals can feel physical pain as we do. An article from Andrea Nolan for Independent Digital News refers to birds who, when injured, “will choose to eat food containing pain-killing drugs (analgesics) over untreated food, and by measures of behavior, they will improve.” In fact, as the article shows, many domestic animals showed positive behavioral signs after taking medication. Animals who had surgery yet remained in pain showed “behaviors reflective of pain which [were] alleviated when they [were] treated with analgesics such as morphine” (Nolan).
The brain sends signals indicating pain (via Healthcare.utah.edu)
It can be rather difficult to notice when an animal is in pain however, because behavior changes may be very subtle. Familiarity with the animal can help determine whether or not it is in pain by distinguishing odd behavior from what is normal of the animal. Stanley Coren of Psychology Today may just be able to explain why. His article focused on dog’s perception of pain compared to humans. Coren believes that “canines have inherited an instinct to hide any pain that is caused by injuries or infirmity.” They do this in attempt to not display their weaknesses, the article says, which would make them appear “vulnerable to attack, and there is a survival advantage to act like nothing is wrong even when something most definitely is” (Coren). Coren says that “they suppress many of the more obvious signals of pain and injury to protect themselves and their social standing in their pack.”
Research is seemingly split on the issue, with “many veterinarians [having] accepted the idea that dogs have a low sensitivity to pain…” (Coren). Information has shown that dogs specifically, may be ignoring pain as they used to in order to protect themselves from possible predators. Other sources show that all vertebrates possess the necessary brain function to feel pain, while behavioral patterns seemingly confirm this. Although, the largest opposing argument is that we cannot possibly know without communication.
Coren, Stanley. “Do Dogs Feel Pain the Same Way That Humans Do?” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 20 Sept. 2011. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
Nolan, Andrea. “Do Animals Feel Pain in the Same Way as Humans Do?” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 7 July 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
Sneddon, Lynne U. “Can Animals Feel Pain?” Pain. The Wellcome Trust, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
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