Can tigers cry?

Yes, they can but not because of an emotional reaction to something but as a physical means to wash away a substance on the cornea of their eye or eyes.

The point is this: the dictionary definition of crying is “to shed tears, ESPECIALLY AS A RESULT OF STRONG EMOTION such as grief, sorrow, pain or joy”.

The key phrase is in capitals. It strongly implies that crying can be for reasons other than an emotional response.

On that basis, as mentioned, tigers can cry because occasionally their eyes will water up because of a range of physical reasons such as dust in their eyes.

Tiger eye
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Tiger eye. Photo: Pixabay

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I am not saying that it happens a lot but it must happen occasionally. Also, tigers have tear ducts which means they have the anatomy to create tears. Tear ducts drain the tears from the eye to the nose. All cats, domestic and wild have them.

If they can produce tears they can cry. It is just a question of deciding for what reason. It won’t be because of an emotion.

That said I am applying logic. There are no scientific articles on this topic. No scientists have spent days and weeks studying the tearing mechanism of tigers and deciding if they feel grief.

Feline emotions by the way are work in progress for humans. With respect to the domestic cat scientists are still figuring out if cats can experience the higher emotions like grief. There is a debate about it. But certainly, as sentient beings, tigers experience emotions at least at a basic level. But acute sadness does not, in my view, result in crying.

I just discovered (a year after writing this article) that Medical News Today backs my assessment. They say that “humans are the only animals to cry tears”.

Why do humans cry for emotional reasons? There are actually three types of tears (1) basal, which is an antibacterial liquid to keep the eyes moist when people blink (2) reflex which is when the eyes tear up because of wind or smoke and (3) emotional when people cry for a range of emotional reasons.

Emotional tears contain a higher level of stress hormones than other types of tears. When humans cry it is a self-soothing process as it helps people to regulate their emotions, calm themselves down and reduce their distress. It also gets the support of others. It makes people feel better and it helps relieve pain as shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins which improve mood. It is believed that crying might reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body thereby reducing stress.

Clearly tigers don’t have the need for these benefits. One reason for this might be that animals seem to have a higher pain threshold. They accept pain with more tolerance. And as cats are essentially solitary, they can’t expect tears to elicit help from others. Also, cats’ emotions would appear to be less well developed compared to those of humans which if true would preclude the need to cry to improve mood as stated.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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