Animals Feel Pain

Pain is a messenger: It tells us that there’s a problem and that we need to take care of it.

People can express discomfort, but animals sometimes have a tougher time. This led Weird Animal Question of the Week to wonder: “Do animals feel pain the same way we do, and how can we tell?”

Show Us Where It Hurts

Mammals share the same nervous system, neurochemicals, perceptions, and emotions, all of which are integrated into the experience of pain, says Marc Bekoff, evolutionary biologist and author.

Animals Feel Pain

Whether mammals feel pain like we do is unknown, Bekoff says—but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience it.

There are some clues as to how animals—especially pets—communicate physical suffering.

For instance, Dorothy Brown’s dog Foster has phantom limb pain in a leg that was amputated after being hit by a car.

“He will be fast asleep and jump up and cry and look at where his leg used to be,” says Brown, who teaches surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary Hospital, where Foster was brought in for treatment. Human amputees also experience this phenomenon.

Veterinarians also rely on observant owners to report behavioral changes that may indicate painful conditions, such as no longer jumping up on the couch or a loss of appetite, Brown adds.

Scientists have developed “grimace scales,” initially used for children, for mice, rabbits, rats, and horses. Each animal displays certain physical changes that are reliable indicators of pain; hurt rabbits, for instance, will stiffen their whiskers, narrow their eyes, and pin back their ears.

So there’s some science behind owners’ and vets’ assertion that “I can see it in their eyes and I can see it in their face,” Brown says.

The article was published first on the National Geographic. Continue reading…