Do cats feel pain?

The cat has filched a steaming hot fried fish with its forepaws. The cat is also standing on the still hot stove. Another cat would sleep so close to the fireplace until the fur is singe. A cat would be seen walking on ice oblivious of the cold. Of course the cat’s paws are protected by the fur but the heat would be enough to burn human skin and the freezing cold can already cause frostbite. Are the legendary nine lives of cats given because these animals cannot feel pain? Actually, cats can feel pain but these animals are stoic…cats are adept at hiding their pains.

Not very long ago there was a common belief that cats do not feel pain. In fact vets would not prescribe pain medications after the invasive procedures of neutering and spaying. Recent studies conducted on domestic cats have proven that these animals can feel pain. Just like humans, cats’ skin and body have receptors that will report pain and other kinds of sensations to the brain. Laboratory experiments that have subjected cats to physical pain confirmed the theory that these animals can indeed feel pain. Hormone levels in the blood as well as the changes in electrical signals received by the brain are similar to humans in pain. These findings are indications that cats can experience pain.

So where did the notion that cats cannot feel pain come from? People that keep dogs and cats for pets would notice that dogs in pain would have the propensity to howl while an injured cat would try to hide the pain they feel. Partly, this was explained by the fact that dogs are pack animals. A feral dog would expect some level of support from the members of the pack. Companion dogs would expect support from the human family. Cats on the other hand are solitary animals. Cats are also known for their independent personalities. Cats, expecting no support from either the pack members or from the human family would have no other recourse but to hide the pain. Injuries would make a cat vulnerable to the attack of predators thus these animals would act as if nothing ails them. Hiding and not showing signs of pain can be the cats’ survival mechanism.

Cats can really feel pain. However, unlike a dog that would yelp if the tail or the paw is stepped on, a cat’s reflex action is to bite whatever is causing the pain. Cats appear to be oblivious to pain because these animals produce higher levels of endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals or neurotransmitters that have the function of transmitting electrical signals to the nervous system. Secretion of endorphins is triggered by stress and/or pain. Endorphins reduce the perception of pain and because cats have higher levels of this chemicals as compared to humans. Cats can tolerate levels of pain that would already be stressful to humans. Additionally, the paws and the body of the cat appears to be insensitive to hot and very cold temperatures. It can be due to the protection created by the fur or to the minimal numbers of heat receptors in the cat’s body. The cat’s high tolerance to pain can be due to the high levels of endorphins.

Before domestication, cats have survived in the wild. Injured cats managed to avoid predators by not showing any signs of pain. The sense of pain is important for the cats’ survival. A cat that cannot sense pain would have no reflex action and therefore would find it very difficult to survive in harsh environments. Cats just like dogs or any other animals for that matter can feel pain but they tend to hide the pain and mask what they feel with indifference to hide their vulnerability from predators.

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