I don’t believe that cats feel pain exactly like humans because their brain processes pain signals from their peripheral nerves in a way which is similar to methods used by therapists when teaching people how to manage pain through psychological therapies. I think cats do it automatically whereas humans have to be taught how to manage pain without using painkillers when suffering from chronic pain. I see it as a filtering process which buffers the pain although the electrical impulses coming into the brain from the spina cord are identical to those in humans. Cats and humans have very similar physiology.
I’ve made my decision on that without having a clinical background in the science of feline pain. I’ve come to my conclusions from reading about cats over a long period of time and observing cats. Pretty well everyone knows by now that cats contain their pain and show minimal or subtle behavioural changes. It is not overt as is the case with humans. Whereas a human might shout out when they’re in pain or constantly complain and reach for the painkillers, a domestic cat will tend to shut up and go away to hide and snooze.
Cats do show signs of pain in their facial expressions but they are very subtle although scientists can now measure these subtleties. And cats do show signs of pain when sometimes crying out if they are handled in a way which triggers acute pain signals because they are injured. But there is this innate preconditioning to shut up and keep quiet about it in the interests of survival. And I don’t believe that this is simply a case of stoicism but an inherited ability to process pain in a way which makes it more tolerable to live with.
That said, pain is pain no matter how you slice and dice it and we know that cats feel pain because their nervous system and indeed their physiology is very similar to ours. There’s no question about cats feeling pain but it is remarkable that perhaps a hundred years ago even the experts were unsure whether cats felt pain like humans.
Perhaps at that time there was more of a culture among humans to work on the assumption that human beings come first and that animals come second, which is still a very prevalent attitude, which lends itself to the belief that animals cannot be comparable to humans. Which is a clear act of speciesism. Speciesism is favouring one species over another and humans nearly always automatically prioritize themselves over non-human animals. It’s a deeply ingrained concept supported by Christianity and other religions which are misguided because they are rooted in centuries old ideologies.
There is an awakening that cats are sentient beings among the less well-educated peoples of the world. “Sentience” means the quality of being able to experience feelings and of course pain. Put another way, sentience is the ability to experience sensations. The more people there are who believe that animals are sentient creatures the better the animal welfare.
It is the sport and trophy hunters who temporarily suspend their belief that animals are sentient beings because how else would they be able to cause such gross pain for their entertainment? These are not ill-educated people. They are wealthy. They have to be to shoot iconic animals. They know they cause acute pain.
I welcome alternative views. Please share them in comments.
SOME MORE ON FELINE PAIN: