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Are Animals Self Aware?

In general scientists do not believe that animals are self aware or possess consciousness in the same way that humans do. This has huge implications for animal welfare since if scientists do not believe that animals experience pain, grief, fear or other emotions in the same way that we do, then they may not believe that animals can suffer when poorly treated.

It is incredibly difficult to demonstrate that a fellow creature is self aware or has emotions when they cannot communicate with us effectively. There are many scientific experiments which have been carried out to ascertain whether animals are "conscious" but they usually failed to show anything useful.

I believe that this is a question where common sense and experience must prevail.

I believe that the cow who lows for three days when her calf is taken from her and the elephant who stands by her dead calf for ages are showing signs of what we would recognise as grief. I believe that the dog which cries out when it tears its claw is experiencing pain. The sheep who tries to escape from the conveyer belt at the abattoir is experiencing fear and the cat purring with her kittens is experiencing pleasure.

I am sure that anyone who has spent any amount of time getting to know an animal or animals would recognise scenarios where they appear to show pleasure, happiness, fear, pain, and anxiety. Unfortunately many people in the scientific community would say that this is anthropomorphism and we should not assume that animals have any feelings at all in fact some believe that animals are merely machines which respond to input in a specific way way without any "thought" or "emotion" at all.

I would say this seems illogical to me. I believe that consciousness in some form is necessary for survival and I would argue that it is useless to have a mechanism for experiencing pain without the ability to acknowledge this in a conscious manner.

A dog being beaten will run away from the aggressor. It must surely make a conscious decision about which way to run. If the mechanism were to be merely input pain- response run then surely we would see dogs running toward the aggressor almost as often as away?

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All Rights Reserved | Content is provided for information only. All content on vetbase.co.uk is protected by copyright and therefore may not be copied without specific written permission from the author. Disclaimer: The content of this website is based upon the opinions of Samantha Coe, unless otherwise stated. Individual articles, extracts, and any links to external sites are based upon the opinions of the respective author(s), who may retain copyright. The information on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a qualified veterinary professional and is not intended as medical advice. The purpose of this site is the sharing of knowledge and information - Samantha Coe encourages you to make informed healthcare decisions for animals in your care based upon your research and in consultation with your vet.