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Do pets really have emotions?

Do pets really have emotions?

It's hard to tell how our pets are feeling. Do they feel emotions as complex as ours? Or are we overly attentive to how they feel? Deirdre Vine investigates. From the new issue of PetPeople magazine

'My cat, George, went missing recently,' says his owner, Daisy Jones. 'When I mentioned I was worried he might be afraid and lonely, one friend looked at me as though I was mad. It seemed like 'hungry', 'thirsty' or 'injured' were acceptable concerns; but in this person's eyes I was guilty of a cardinal sin: attributing human feelings to an animal.'

Daisy, like many of us, takes it for granted that companion animals have rich emotional lives, though they're not identical to our own. (After all, when was the last time your dog shed a tear at a weepy movie?) But when we respond to what appear to be emotions in our pets, are we just being a bit too sentimental?

Probably not - up to a point. Our brains share the same underlying circuitry, and physiological evidence and behavioural observation certainly indicate that dogs and cats experience many of the same emotions as us, though perhaps not all the complex variations. Recently, scientists have rigorously investigated animals' emotions, but the conclusions vary widely and scientists are far from agreement over the results. Though they don't dispute that, when it comes to survival emotions such as anger, fear and surprise, all mammals share the same brain structure, therefore experiencing the same emotions.

Dr Paul Morris, a psychologist undertaking research into animal emotions at Portsmouth University, explains: 'These emotions provide the ability to react to information which enters the brain via the senses, allowing animals to avoid getting eaten, find things to eat and look after their young.' Whereas scientists previously believed most animals lack the 'sense of self' needed to experience social emotions such as jealousy, empathy or guilt, Dr Morris says views have changed: 'We are learning that dogs, horses and many other species are far more emotionally complex than we realised, experiencing forms of many emotions we previously only associated with primates.'

Professor Daniel Mills, from Lincoln University, says mutual respect between pet and owner is key: 'We can ask an animal if it wants to do something, but we should recognise that it is a request, not a command, and we should read their answer appropriately - there's no harm in letting them have their way occasionally. You have a friend because you enjoy their company, not because they do what you say.'

Dr Morris also adds: 'Unpredictability is good in some relationships,' making the interesting point that while consistency is a good quality in a pet owner, it does not mean the relationship between you and your pet has to be boring. He also suggests that sometimes giving a pet a reward for no particular reason helps strengthen the bond: 'Our feelings become stronger when they're reinforced at a time we least expect it. It's the same as giving an unexpected gift to show your affection, rather than simply because it's a birthday.

Mark Taylor specialises in animal photography. He has had most breeds of cat and dog in his Surrey studio. Does he think that the emotions we link to our pets are closely tied with their looks? 'Definitely - but it's hard not to because we imagine how we'd feel if we looked like they do. Any animal with droopy ears tends to be thought of as being gloomy because when a dog is happy, its ears tend to go up, but some - Basset Hounds for instance 'can't prick their ears up properly.' The British Bulldog has long been a symbol of dour defiance with its sombre expression, yet on a recent shoot, Mark found them to be 'amazingly playful with lovely, obliging natures.'

And what about rabbits? Dr Margo DeMello, who lives in New Mexico with her husband, four Chihuahuas, a cat, a parrot, and over 50 house rabbits, is president of the International House Rabbit Society. She explains: 'There's no question that rabbits, like all other mammals, have emotions like joy, frustration, jealousy, anger, rage and sadness. My rabbit expressed his sadness after his girlfriend died through rage - he destroyed everything and dug a big hole in the living room wall. It wasn't until he got his current girlfriend that his rage went away at last.'

None of us can truly know how another animal feels, but many believe that animals do have emotions. Dr Morris says: 'Pet owners should have the confidence to believe they have a genuine relationship with the animal. Don't be affected by the sceptic who scoffs at the notion that a pet has a deep affection for its owner, because I really think they do.'

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annette durrans
of course animals have emotins.only people who have never had a pet would have doubts.I was a dog groomer for many years and also boarded many at hoiday times .although none of my dogs ever fretted..i they tret my home as their own .and usually slept on my bed.The joy on their little faces at being reunited with their owners was plain for all to see .and left me having a little weep as i bade them farewell ;until their next trim;when they were just as pleased to see me once again .i.ve seen dogs mourn for their owners who have passed away .So let us be in no doubt .animals care .My freinds collie dogs were in kennels and one escaped rosie. found her way back home and was cared for by a neighbour ,12 miles she walked never having been ther before ,she will now not let her owner out of her sight if thats not love and care i dont know what is
Yes, I truly believe that my cat Tannie is very emotional and loving. He does have feelings and the way he expresses himself to me is amazing. The relationship I have with Tannie is fantastic. We understand each other, and yes he does RULE me. I could go on about Tannie for ages and all his little ways and what he does on a day to day basis is sweet. I am a cat lover and always have had cats in my life I do like some dogs but don1t think I could ever own one. Looking after a cat and dog is very different. So all you pet owners Yes Animals DO have feelings and emotions. My Tannie does not have any Teeth, sadly he had to have them all taken out because he would of been sick in the long run so best this was done at the vets advice and now he is happy as larry. I dont think of him not having teeth he behaves in the same way and eats regularly including crunches! He loves me. He is the best cat I have had.... thanks for reading... Veronica Tannie is nearly 5 years old...
miss lisa yates
when a rabbit is happy they run around and jump in mid air, this is known as a binky
john crudgington
all animals suffer from emotions i have a large chocolate labrador retreaver named taffwhen ever we pick up his coat or his car harness he storms off pretending to sniff the floor then when we have put them on him he stands very still looking as if he has beenleft in a dog home
Jo Stanley
I have a German Pointer (Rhandle) who smiles when he is happy to see me :-) and refuses to eat when I am not there. If dogs didn't feel happiness/excitement then they wouldn't wag their tails surely. And when its bath time the tail of one of my dogs (Jake) is between his legs, his ears are low and his eyes are very sad :-( I am unable to put Jake into a kennel because he becomes so low that when I pick him up he is so excited his blood pressure rises so much the vessels in his scalp burst and bleed!!!! My other dogs (Charlie, a rescued Greyhound) face lights up when he sprints round in circles which I can only imagine is similar to when he was training. So in my opinion, of course animals have feelings. Lisa: We used to have a rabbit that did that all day long, we re named him 'Bonkers' becasue of it ha ha but he was obviously a very happy little rabbit, bless him oh and he used to come into the house and get into bed with the dogs, thats got to be love.
My rabbit Toby easily expresses his emotions. I think the problem is many humans are too ignorant to notice them. We bought the rabbits for dummies book when we got tiny as he is our first house rabbit. Just by reading about rabbits behaviour we could recognise when he was bored, happy, angry. It's such a joy to watch him doing jumps all over the lounge or laying down all stretched out looking content. We also know when he just wants to be left alone. Happy rabbit, happy owners :)
Oh yes, they make their views very clear. I work shifts and, if I come into the kitchen (where my cats sleep at night) late at night for a drink / snack I get an evil look from both that makes it quite clear they would like me to turn the light off and push off! If, on the other hand, they are lying on the bed during the day and would welcome a stroke they lift their heads and I get a chirrup
Helen Foster
I am a cat person and, in particular, a fan of the Maine Coon cat. Got my first cat when I was one. Have had seven feline companions to date - four of them simultaneously for the last 18/19 years, with one survivor left of the four. Each and every one of them has had a very distinct character of their own, the three Maine Coons I had having the biggest personalities and demonstrating a whole range of emotions that go way beyond being hungry. They stick by your side like glue, they have a range of 'voices' to tell you they want to: play, be cuddled, snuggle, have a good old moan and shout; need reassurance; need to be boss. I'd even venture to suggest my cats have displayed a greater variety and depth of emotion than most of the men I've known in my 53 years - no kidding.
liz nankivell
i have a house rabbit called Jasper ..im told that rabbits should have a mate for company ,as they get lonley.i find that not to be so ,we talk to him constantly and cuddle him always .he interacts with us and i can tell and anyone one who visits that he is a very happy boy .
I'm 12 and i've had my dog Archie for three years now, before i got him i thought pets were just cute and i didn't really think about there emotions. When i saw this blog i thought that pets definitly do have emotions, as my dog Archie reacts differently to different situations, showing he understands things that humans feel even though he's a dog. Like when my Gramp was ill he laid by his side all the time and he changed the way he acted around him, like he knew something was wrong.But there is more to the depth of there emotions i think, just because they can't express themselves like humans can by talking or writing, people think they have no emotions at all, and personally i think that it completly wrong.I don't think rabbits, gerbils, guini pigs or hamsters have this kind of emotion, well not strongly anyway. But dogs and cats show there emotion by how my dog sulks when he doesn't get his way or if my dad's been a long time at work, how he is more jumpy, joyful and how my dog smiles when he's been played with alot, or just how much love he shows to the people you are loyale to him, how he trusts them and how he is content around t
Jean Tomlinson
I have had dogs all my life and to me they have emotions just as humans do. Although my dog can not talk he uses his eyes, actions and body language to express how he is feeling, he also understands my emotions.How anyone can say otherwise is beyond me.
Hi Paige, I am 12 too and i have a dog called charlie he does have emotions and i think all animals do Like you said they may not be able to show it as well as we can but you can defenitly tell wether they are upset or bored or wether they want something.My dog can tell when something is up or wether we are going somewhere and if he is coming with us.I love my dog and I could never ever let something happen to him!:)
Hi PaigeI am also 12 years old and have a lovely dog named Scruffy.I't is incredible how dogs can show there emotions so clearly and each have their own little way of showing them.For example when my dog wants something, she would come up and nudge you with her chin until I give her what she wants.Dogs are amazing creatures and are of course my favourite for how they are so grounded and connected with the earth and their surroundings.Thank you for sharing about your dog Archie(:
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