If you've spent time with animals, you know they have thoughts and feelings just like we do. I'm often asked questions about what I think they feel, or whether something hurts, or if a pet "knows" when it's time. Do they have a sense of humor? Do they miss us when we're gone? Do strays "remember" their past? Can they tell us what they are feeling about any of these things?
Yes. Animals have feelings, and they communicate in so many ways. They turn to look. Their little eyeballs bug out. They raise their lips to smile and warn. They make sounds. They nuzzle. They tilt their heads. Their tails operate independently from the rest of their bodies. They put their paws on you when they want something. Abused animals may flinch or cower when pet. Cats bring "gifts". Chihuahuas defend laps to the death. Goldfish dance to music.
I've always thought one of the reasons veterinarians are so cool is that their patients don't talk, and can't tell them where it hurts or how long they've been feeling that way. Veterinarians and technicians have to rely on palpation, auscultation, observation and a good history to figure out what tests to run and what the diagnosis is.
If something hurts, an animal may turn, grunt, squint, squeal, pant, or try to bite. If they are stoic, the only change may be a deeper breath or dilation of their pupils. Cats have been known to hide. Dogs have been known to wander off.
Animals generally adapt much better to pain than humans do, which is why it is important to regularly evaluate their level of pain and make sure we are controlling it well and not allowing them to suffer.
I've always been interested in learning about what humans facing certain conditions feel like, so that I can apply that to what my animal patients may be feeling. I've also shared that information with owners so that they are better prepared to understand some of the behaviors they may see.
Human paralysis patients who are recovering have reported feeling an intense tingling sensation in their limbs during recovery. Human cancer patients with ascites (fluid in their abdomen) have reported a heavy tight feeling that hinders breathing. Human heart failure patients have noted the distress that comes from not being able to take a deep breath.
It is important to be mindful of what our pets are feeling, physically and mentally. Overweight pets, old pets, pets with chronic illness, pets who are grieving or lonely, and pets with nothing wrong whatsoever! Their feelings count too, and they should be happy, engaged, and loved. If you think your pet is in pain, talk to your veterinarian.