We have to be careful not to project our thoughts onto kittens and cats. Also we should recognise the effect a cat’s facial anatomy can have on their expression. They may look sad but it does not mean that they are sad. It begs the big question as to whether domestic cats can show their emotions through facial expressions. The answer is yes. It has been proved scienfically so there is no debate about it although the study concerned one emotion, distress caused by pain. A cat’s facial expression does show pain. It is subtle.
Is this kitten genuinely as sad as she appears? No, the expression is quite extreme really and implies that the kitten is very sad and upset. I don’t believe it. It is due to her facial anatomy. Although she may be a bit depressed. Can cats show happiness and smile? Cats’ mouths nearly always turn downwards which gives them a enigmatic and slightly sad appearance. You will see the occassional cat with a smile. Sometimes they are digitally edited photographs and sometimes there is a faint smile. Once again it is due to facial anatomy. And there is one breed, the Chartreux, which is known for their smile. This is down to selective breeding.
You can tell if a cat is content or happy by their general demeanour and body language. Also their behaviour and their voice gives it away. These are accurate ways of guaging a cat’s emotional state. They say that cats don’t show pain as a means of self-preservation against predators. This is partially true. An observant cat guardian can see it. You have to know your cat well and all good cat guardians do.
Studies with dogs have found that the hang dog guilty look that dogs have after they’ve done something wrong, which has annoyed their owner, is in fact fear and anxiety. They are reacting to their owner’s annoyance which is shown in their behaviour and voice. Once again it is a deception. People create these situations and sometimes decieve themselves into believing that their dog is expressing a high level emotion such as guilt. It is not true.
Although the debate on animals and their ability to feel emotions is a hot topic nowadays. One thing for sure it that people are finally understanding that animals have emotions and they express them. The question mark hangs over the depth and complexity of their emotions. This is work in progress.