The Feeling Animal

By: Suzanne Brint

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Muppet was definitely expressing his feelings about how excited he was to celebrate the holidays with his Foster Mom!

We have all seen the pictures and videos of animals mourning the death of pack mates; dogs staying at the gravesite of deceased owners, service dogs sensing the onset of cancer or seizures and alerting their humans, dogs staying by the side of their injured owner. The anecdotal cases are beyond counting and the incidents seemingly more prevalent day by day. The internet and social media abound with examples. The question is, do animals have emotion? Do animals feel pain? Can they sense what we are feeling?

On the day my father died, I sat on the back porch steps of our home and sobbed. Head in my hands and elbows on my knees. I was very young and other than my mother, quite alone or so I thought. Until this happened: my dog, Max, a big bully dog, had been observing me obviously. He sat on the step next to me for a bit. Then gradually, he pushed his big head gently under my arms, stepped over my legs, and pressed his body against my chest, enveloping me in a hug. And there he stayed until I stopped crying. There was no choice but to hug him back and shed my tears into his furry neck.

Current research into animal awareness is exciting as well as moving. I think anyone who has loved their pets will be aware that their special four-legged friend possesses a unique intelligence and awareness. I have been accused of anthropomorphism meaning that I imbue the pet with human qualities. But those folks who doubt will at some point need to address their doubt considering scientific findings as time progresses. We also need to understand that our emotional life and the emotional life of animals is biological in nature. Having emotions keeps us aware, safe and loved in this threatening and often scary world. Emotions help us to replicate our species. Emotions allow us to connect socially.

The history of animal sentience dates back further than most realize. Historically, animals were thought to be a kind of machine and not have any capability of thought or feeling. This philosophy was detailed by the philosopher René Descarte in the 1600’s. This would indicate that all animal behavior would be based on instinct. Animals were treated as property and utilized for work or as a food source. But over the intervening years research is proving this mindset to be incorrect. We have learned that the brain structure of primates and even dogs is very like humans. Animals even have a brain chemistry like ours. It is thought not only do animals feel pain and experience suffering, but they feel pleasure and happiness as well. A compelling statement was made on July 7, 2012 by scientists attending a convention at Cambridge University in England. They issued the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness which stated, “convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals including all mammals and birds also possess these neurological substrates”. In other words, animals are sentient and can feel emotions, can suffer, can feel pain, and can feel enjoyment.

The legal courts are recently supporting evidence that animals indeed feel and can suffer. In 2016 the supreme court in Oregon determined that pets are not “mere property” and that the abused pet in this case could be examined much in the same way as an abused child. The judges determined that animals ‘are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain, stress and fear,’ the court wrote in the unanimous opinion—and so humans’ “dominion” over the animals, the opinion continues, also has nuanced contours, as do the humans’ privacy interests in the animals’. In other words, if you hurt an animal, you are hurting a living, feeling, cognizant creature and if the animal is harmed that abuse can be found a crime in a court of law.

So, without attempting to induce guilt or assign judgement on any reader’s beliefs about animals, there is remains only accepting that animals, across many species, have the ability to cognate and feel. It is not of human quality to be sure but their ability to feel is undeniable. My goal, if you made it through this piece, would be for you to consider or perhaps reconsider your view of animals and support their welfare on some level. It is my hope that through our evolutionary process we will move to a fully plant-based food system and bio-engineered protein products. It is happening as I write. If we get there, we may develop a world where human and animal pain and suffering is minimized and our mutual happiness maximized. I believe the deeper we empathize with animals, this act might allow us a pathway to more deeply empathize and become altruistic towards each other.

In the meantime, we have our pets to love and cherish. My own experience taught me that my pet could sense my feelings. I am now accepting that I must look into their eyes of those furry critters and feel theirs too.

Healthy Eating Habits for Your Pet

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You might have made some resolutions this month about healthy eating habits, but did you take any time to think about what you’re feeding the furry members of your family? In addition to picking a healthy dog or cat food option, it’s important to make sure you know what human foods are safe to pass on to your pets. Here’s a quick overview of what’s okay to give to your dog or cat and what’s not, as well as a few pet-friendly recipes.

Drinks

Really, all your pet needs to drink is water. However, you should definitely avoid giving Fido and Fluffy any beverage that contains alcohol, caffeine, or milk. Drinks that contain these ingredients can all make your pet very sick. Yes, that includes giving your cat a bowl of milk. Adult cats and dogs don’t make enough of the enzyme that is required to break down the lactose in milk and dairy products, so it can make them sick.

If you are worried that your pet might not be getting enough to drink, check out these WebMD articles about dehydration in cats and dogs.

Meat

ASPCA recommends that you don’t give your pets raw or under cooked meat or eggs since these foods can contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. And while it might seem natural give your dog a leftover bone, it can also be dangerous because bone splinters can injure your pet’s throat or digestive tract.

So, if you want to share some table scrapes with your pet, just make sure they are cooked and boneless.

Fruits and Vegetables

Avocados, grapes and raisins, coconut, onions, garlic, and chives are some of the fruits and vegetables that are best avoided when passing human food on to animals. Some others, such as citrus fruits, are generally safe in small amounts, but can cause problems if your pet eats too much.

Fruits and veggies that are safe to give your dog include apples, bananas, broccoli, and cucumbers. You can find out more here.

Nuts

Nuts are best avoided as they contain high amounts of oils and fats that aren’t good for your pets and could even cause pancreatitis. Macadamia nuts are especially dangerous for animals and can cause symptoms such as weakness, vomiting, and hyperthermia.

ASPCA suggests steering clear of nuts entirely, although other sources suggest some kinds are okay. You can read more about the issue in this article.

Snacks

When it comes to human snack foods, you should avoid giving your pet anything with a high salt content, such as chips or pretzels. A little salt probably won’t hurt them, but too much can cause serious problems. As for sweet snacks, be careful not to give your animal pal anything that contains xylitol, which is commonly used as a sweetener in many human snacks but can cause a dangerous increase of insulin in animals and even lead to liver failure.

While some human food is safe to pass on to your pets, if you’re looking for a special treat, consider making them one of these just-for-pets recipes:

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Make sure that your pet stays healthy this year by keeping in mind which foods are or are not safe for them to eat. What’s your pet’s favorite healthy treat?

Title image via Pexels.

Buckle Up!

Does your dog love to ride in the car? Stick his head out the window and sniff all the smells the world has to offer? But have you ever thought what might happen to your dog if you were to slam on the breaks while he was standing on the seat; or worse get in an accident? It’s a scary thought for any animal lover, myself included. But it got me thinking, what is the best way for my dog to ride in the car? Is he really in any danger if he’s laying down?

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8yo Milo is looking for a forever home!

According to a Forbes.com article, a 10lb unrestrained animal can exert 300lbs of force when going 30mph during an accident. That’s enough force to send your beloved pet out of the car or worse, in to you. You wouldn’t want to think of your dog as an unrestrained sack of potatoes, but that’s what it could be like if you were to get into an accident.

Unfortunately, the number of safety restraints that work efficiently are quite low. When tested, most restraints snapped, broke at weak points or left the animal with life ending injuries when tested on weighted stuff animals. One of the few restraints that consistently protected the dog as well as others in the car during simulated testing was Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility Harness. The Sleepypod was given a 5 star rating by the Center for Pet Safety (CPS). This restraint works just like a human’s seat belt, it prevents the dog from exiting the car and maintains stability and spine alignment if an accident were to occur.

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Muppet is adoptable and brings his own toys!

For owners of smaller dogs or cats, you might not be comfortable with using a seat belt. Thankfully, the CPS also tested different types of carrier and listed the top performing carriers on their website, found here. It is important to note, that a carrier is only safe if it securely fastened to the car.