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Do Animals Have Emotions?

We might expect to find close, enduring and endearing emotional relationships between members of the same species, but improbable relationships also occur between animals of wildly different species, even between animals who are normally predator and prey! Such is the case for Aochan, a rat snake, who befriended a dwarf hamster named Gohan at Tokyo’s Mutsugoro Okoku Zoo, and a lioness in northern Kenya who adopted a baby oryx (usually an appetizer before a larger meal) on five different occasions.

It’s bad biology to argue against the existence of animal emotions. Scientific research in evolutionary biology, cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds) and social neuroscience support the view that numerous and diverse animals have rich and deep emotional lives. (Here I focus on mammals, although there are data showing that birds and perhaps fish experience various emotions as well as pain and suffering.)

Charles Darwin’s well-accepted ideas about evolutionary continuity that differences among species are differences in degree rather than kind – argue strongly for the presence of animal emotions, empathy and moral behavior. Continuity allows us to connect the evolutionary dots among different species to highlight similarities in evolved traits, including individual feelings and passions. All mammals (including humans) share neuroanatomical structures, such as the amygdala and neurochemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings.

Mirror neurons help explain feelings such as empathy. Research on these neurons supports the notion that individuals can feel the feelings of others. Mirror neurons allow us to understand another individual’s behavior by imagining ourselves performing the same behavior and then mentally projecting ourselves into the other individual’s shoes.

To what degree various species share this capability remains to be seen, but there is compelling evidence that humans are not alone in possessing it. Diana monkeys and chimpanzees help one another acquire food, and elephants comfort others in distress. Mirror neurons also help explain observations of rhesus monkeys who won’t accept food if another monkey suffers when they do so, and empathic mice who react more strongly to painful stimuli after they observed other mice in pain.

The borders between “them” and “us” are murky and permeable, and the study of animal emotions helps inform the big question of just who we are. Another big question for which answers are revealed by studying animal passions is, “Can animals be moral beings?” In my development of the phenomenon that I call “wild justice,” I argue that they can. Many animals know right from wrong and live according to a moral code.

When people tell me that they love animals because they’re feeling beings and then go on to abuse them, I tell them that I’m glad they don’t love me. I often ask researchers who conduct invasive work with animals or people who work on factory farms, “Would you do that to your dog?” Some are startled to hear this question, but if people won’t do something to their own dog that they do daily to other dogs or to mice, rats, cats, monkeys, pigs, cows, elephants or chimpanzees, we need to know why. There’s no doubt whatsoever that, when it comes to what we can and cannot do to other animals, it’s their emotions that should inform our discussions and our actions on their behalf.

Emotions are the gifts of our ancestors. We have them, and so do other animals. We must never forget this. When it comes to animal welfare, we can always do better. Most of the time, “good welfare” is not good enough.

The Bark is the award-winning magazine of modern dog culture—it speaks to the committed dog enthusiast—and is the indispensable guide to life with dogs, showing readers how to live smartly and rewardingly with their canine companions. Bark is the recognized expert on the social/cultural world of dogs in America, and what they mean to us. Click here for your FREE issue.

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2:58PM PDT on Aug 11, 2013

The answer is obvious to everyone here. We've all found that the behaviour of the animals we know can't be explained any other way!

7:01PM PDT on Jun 27, 2013

What a stupid question, of course animals has feelings

12:03PM PDT on Sep 3, 2012

"Do animals have emotions?"

A, if you have to ask this question, then you probably lack intelligence and emotion.

B, their emotion and intelligence quotients far surpass that of the two-legged beast called "man," the most dangerous, calamitous creature on earth.

9:35PM PDT on Mar 20, 2012

Of course every living creature has feelings. Why would anyone doubt it?

8:29AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011

yes they do,each animal has is own distinct personality and way of responding

3:05PM PDT on Oct 1, 2011

People who think that animals don't have emotions probably make a living in a field that involves causing harm to animals. Saying that creatures other than humans don't feel emotions helps to absolve any guilt they may experience, and in their mind, justifies any abuse.

1:01PM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

of course they do. I have a minature poodle and she shows her emotions all the time. When people come to visit she gets so excited about it.

7:57AM PDT on Sep 1, 2011

Definitely all animals have emotions.

7:10AM PDT on Aug 29, 2011

Of course animals have emotions! Just watch the behaviour of your cat or dog! Or watch some of the wonderful natural world programmes and see the lioness or tigress caring for her young. Or elephants. Or . . . where do I stop?

2:01AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

Thanks everyone for the great comments. Care2 people are a sane bunch! Remember that the same people doing these studies think that its ok to experiment on animals because they dont feel anything. To me I wonder who these so called smart people can even get funding to do studies on things everyone else already knows, yet apparently they have high IQ's. Animals are truly phenomenal, they exhibit Unconditional Love - the highest kind and most difficult to master, and express joy like children in love with the world. All animals have personality and emotions whether they are chickens, guinea pigs or dogs, or in the wild. For all we know bacteria might have emotion!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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people are talking

None of these 5 points are surprising to me, but thanks for the article.

Thanks!

Dean W.----Why do you read the articles if you think they are nonsence!? The way to health is throug…

I hope they actually got their meds.

Wow! That's true about how negative SEEMS more important than happiness.

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