There was a craze on the Internet recently about cats eating ice cream and filming their reaction (brain freeze). The world is divided into two groups on this activity. There are those who find it amusing and there are those who regard it as animal abuse. I am in the latter group.
It is clear to me that the “amusing reaction” of cats when they lick ice cream is due to the pain that they feel. I have written about this before but my article was based on common sense. I would like to dig a little bit deeper. It is hard to find, at a physiological level, a scientific research paper which supports the argument that cats feel pain when they lick ice cream. In fact they don’t exist!
However, a cat’s anatomy and physiology is very similar to that of humans. I would argue, therefore, that domestic cats have cells in their body which are called thermoreceptors. Thermoreceptors are divided into two types, those detecting low temperatures and those detecting high temperatures.
The low threshold receptors are activated by temperatures between, surprisingly, 15 and 45°C. Temperatures below 15°C are in general reported as being painful in individuals. To be clear, we are referring to objects which touch the skin, lips, tongue or other tissues of the body. This must be the case because an ambient, air temperature of 15°C and below is not painful per se. It may be slightly uncomfortable to some people but that is all.
So why do thermoreceptor cells send a signal to the brain causing pain when they detect an object which is of a low temperature? I would argue that there can only be one sensible reason. The reason is that objects which are of a low temperature can damage the tissue that it touches.
The body is protecting itself from harm by sending a signal back to the brain which says that you must recoil from touching that object. This is why a domestic cat recoils when they lick ice cream. They back away and pull a “funny face” (a face indicating shock). This is the cat recoiling from the sudden pain or discomfort that they feel and it is their body’s natural reaction for self preservation (survival).
Some time ago, I wrote about funny cat videos. The cat-eating-ice-cream-video is regarded as a “funny cat video” (a specific genre). In that article, I referred to researchers who concluded that 34% of cats in “funny cat videos” suffer some sort of distress or stress. It is a reminder that sometimes the success of a funny cat video depends upon the suffering of the domestic cat featured in it. It is an uncomfortable realisation. It is hard to disagree with the argument, therefore, that some funny cat videos are essentially immoral and unethical. They should not be made and would not be made in a better world. Of course the social media platforms completely ignore this.