WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH ANIMALS AND PAIN?
WHAT IS "STOIC"?
NOTE This is a separate page on my site so when you are finished with this page, use the Back button to get back to whatever page you were just on if you wish to return there. (The Back button at the bottom of this page, or the Back button on your browser.) There is also a link at the bottom to take you directly to the top of the FAQs page that had the link to THIS page, if that's how you arrived here!
"Stoic" is being seemingly indifferent to pain. Animals are very much that way, primarily as a survival mechanism.
In the wild, if one shows weakness, they're almost guaranteed to be THE one singled out by the predator(s). Watch any lion / gazelle combo classic filming on some Discovery type channel (or don't - you know what I mean already). They close in for the kill.
In fact, runts, deformed, disabled members of the pack are often left behind, killed, neglected and the like, depending on species and circumstance but primarily because taking the time and attention to attend to these makes the pack vulnerable. They have to be sharp, undistracted and on their game to fight off vicious and unforgiving - and hungry - natural predators. They can't stop to drag along the one with the broken leg, the sniffles or the weak constitution. Babies, weak they are but yes, they're worth dying for because they represent the future of the pack and of the species itself. Weak without such a redeeming "futures concept" isn't worth it - the whole pack versus the death of one.
It's the age-old lifeboat holds 12 and we've got 13 dilemma. Hey - it makes sense on paper but even though there might be someone who volunteers and is very convincing as to why ("I'm 85 years old, have end-stage cancer and no relatives"), I'd be hard-pressed to be the one to er um help them out of the lifeboat, nor would I want to even watch them slip into the water. UGH. But from an exterior point of view, the greatest good IS for twelve to survive and one to die - IF it has to come to that.
Reason, such as is enjoyed by the average human, would dictate that we try to save Number Thirteen as well. Animals do not necessarily enjoy such a capacity so readily. Again, in varying degrees....
Also, in the wild, the weak, sick, etc can be attacked by their own pack.
No one wants to be killed, to die, to cease to live as who they are, dog, human, tiger, snake, whatever. We all would like to survive. So it behooves us to not show weakness, to not smell sickly or bad, to not seem to be unworthy or uncontributive or of no value, or require too much in contrast to what we bring to the table. Since humans have so much healing technology and longevity afforded them now, this is in many ways almost moot. We live longer and when we have ailments, disabilities and deformaties, we weave our lives around these factors and soldier on, being contributive members of OUR "pack". (Or not - some folks are those same "drama queens" and milk our society for whatever they can get. And I mean folks who do not need to do so, not those who truly cannot avail themselves of help!)
Domesticated animals vary a bit more as they've evolved away from their traditional genetic "roots" and traits, of course to a greater or lesser degree, and of course modified by their own individual personality. That is, we all know someone who's "macho" or "doesn't complain", and someone else in the same predicament, with the same headache or cramps or broken arm or paper cut who is that "drama queen", looks around for attention - or undue attention, and the like.
It's easy to say that animals are no longer "in the wild" (our pets, anyway). That's a nice human concept but they don't necessarily readily differentiate - life lives, the world is the world, and humans have structures erected here and there. What I'm trying to say is, It's all "one big world" to the animals, we're in it, they're in it, there are tree-structures and brick-structures and those structures are just kind of ... there. "Our" human world is as WE see it, we have condos and malls and streets and fences. To them, it's just something that's there as they trot by.
As I have mentioned in other places, the average domesticated animal, or "pet", has the mental state of about a 5 year old human child. You've got a sharp-as-a-tack being combined with mental and physical riggings and instincts and responses which are very base level and, well, "animalistic". The combo of this plus no schooling, no practical application of anything learned (no writing, no schooling, the world'd designed visually for our eyeball anatomy and not theirs, concepts are communicated at a level designed for humans and not for the pet's shorter attention span and life span - etc) gives you a "kid who never grows up".
Have you ever seen the following? Your (or someone's) child trips and falls. He quickly looks up at you with a clean-slate expression - he's looking for YOUR reaction. You gasp, oh my God, are you okay!? and off he goes Waaaaaah!!
You look at him placidly and go, Wow! Huh! You really had quite a fall - that's kinda exciting! Okay so go ahead and get that ball, I'll throw it ... and the kid grins, gets up and continues along running to get the ball for you to throw.
(Assuming of course there's no real injury. You know what I mean.)
Same with pets, in a lot of cases - yes, some of them DO look for your reaction, knowingly. Sure, some want to milk it for all they can get. Some want attention and petting and cuddles and Awwwww! sympathy. Same as humans! and you'll find this in domesticated animals, since it's readily available to them from their humans, whereas not so, in the wild.
But not all do. At a genetic and instinctive level, it's the exception, not the norm. Thousands of generations of survival has taught their bodies and minds to BE STOIC.
If they're not doing well, what they will come up against from their own "tribe" is: Crawl off when you're sick and smell sick and are ailing. Go off to die. Go lick your wounds elsewhere and IF you catch up with the herd, you may be accepted back in. We like you but will shun you - it's you, or all of us.. hey - the tigers are on their way. The birds of prey are hiding, waiting to swoop down. The vicious simians are downwind somewhere. The 'gators share our drinking water. Go be sick elsewhere - you endanger us otherwise!
As a general rule, the animal who wants to "survive" will not show his pain.
(Additionally, their bodies are tougher (than ours) in many ways, too. They have to survive the elements with no coats, socks, shoes, shirts. So they're a bit more steeled against and/or immune to elements and factors which would annoy or pain us. They can be affected by it but we see it as a "bigger deal" than they actually do - in many cases.)
This does not mean that our compassion combined with our capacity for reason and our ability to, well, DO things mechanically does not allow and in fact dictate us to Help them. It does, however, mean that we should understand where they're coming from so we can better read their signs, and accept their communications about How They Feel (and don't feel) about this or that occurrence or ailment.
This is also why when we do an Aunt Julie Consult, or talk, with your pet, sometimes you have to point blank Ask Them About _____. I cannot count the number of times I and a pet owner have asked Anything hurting? anything ailing you? etc and there's "really nothing", or some minimal thing. We then proceed to, say, talk about this and that other subjects and at the end, say, we check one more time, but this time the owner happens to mention, "Now Fluffy, I keep seeing you favoring your left hind leg. ???" and then the cat goes, Oh - THAT. Well, it hurts about 2" down from the rak-rak blah blah with a sharp burning pain but only when I jump xyz - remember that time when you were by the washing machine and I was yowling at you last week? It really hurt! Look there for a small bumpie thing. But - acdtually, don't! I don't want you touching me! Yowl!!!
Owner finds some way to examine Kitty, and there's the bump. Or the sore spot. Or the cancer (yup). The most classic example, which I may or may not have already written about, I forget now, was a kitten who was part of a household of dogs and cats we talked to, and had nothing "significant" to say and all seemed placid and fine. As almost an afterthought the owner did ask some casual How-ya-doin', anything hurtin'? question. The kitten mentally kind of paused for a sec, then volunteered that they had extreme, horrible, agonizing pain in a particular area of their body. They in fact were so pushy and strong and passionate about their description it took me aback - alarmed me a bit.
I have found that when they say there is something, there always is something. I have also found it be quite rare that they are passionate about "how bad it hurts". They get the comm across, they don't (equivalent of) scream about it. This Kitten was. Yet two seconds earlier it never occurred to her that anything was even wrong enough to mention, yawn, life was fine and dandy!
And there had been no visible display of anything wrong with her whatsoever, this pet owner had just been around the block a few times with her pets and with Aunt Julie Consults and knew to ASK.
I had the Kitten describe EXACTLY where it hurt.
The owners took her to the vet right away. She had cancer in that exact area so bad she had to be put down. !!!
Not pleasant - but one of the most perfect examples of stoic, their mental process, the average domesticated pet's mental process, their (average) operating basis with regards to pain, what they feel is important to volunteer on their own as needing to be passed along, and the like.
Yes, this really did happen.
So remember dogs, cats - pets - generally speaking are stoic but that doesn't mean the pain / discomfort / etc isn't there, it's just dealt with differently. To them, showing, validating, displaying, paying attention to, "pain", COUNTERS survival as "they" "it" (the Predators) will notice them, smell them, see them and BING they're GONE in a New York second. This is not "conscous thought" for the most part, it's instinct first, maybe a thought about the "logic" of it all later.
With humans, we tend to kvetch and bitch and can't wait for someone to notice and Make Us Feel Better. They don't.
We reason with them during Aunt Julie Consults. They try to change. They do the best they can. Often times, it's enough that they told us - once. PRAISE them for their bravery and get on with helping them out using our advanced human technology, as much as you can. We'll check with them, tweak things, get data for the vet - we'll do the best we can and the best they can muster up.
Allow them to tell you that they are not afraid of dying, too, by the way. This comes up and you have to be able to hear it. Doesn't mean they want to! Just - let them have their outlook, their reality, on things. This and just generally letting them Say Whatever, without freaking out, makes it easier for them to open up in general and more broadly, and cooperate with our mysterious and scary human ways we "inflict" upon them in the name of "help". (Shots! Pills! Scary vet visits! Shaky car rides!)
Once again remember, domesticated pets are a bit of the wild and a bit of the humanized pet. They need and respond to human caring and love. They are fortunate that they are under our roofs, even if some disagree (e.g. "rescued" animals). There are no "wolf elders" to shun them from The Cave (akin to putting the deformed baby on the ice floe and giving it a gentle shove - a practice which similar to Wolfie's had in the past kept our species able to persist for millenia...). Now they co-habit with humans (and other animals we have told them are their "siblings") and as such are a higher order of "animal", more civilized and so on, than their "wild" counterparts and certainly their ancestors. But stoicness carries forward in its own wise, and many feel animals "don't feel pain". I have also noticed, on the other hand, that many folks think they are "IN" pain when they are not (in the way that WE think of pain). Don't interpret that last that I don't know or acknowledge their pain. I know it better than most - don't ask <g>. I'm just aware also of how it processes, and need you to be, as well.
I found an excellent text about this if you'd like to check it out. I haven't checked out the entire book and often find these types of texts to be full of all sort of erroneous speculation borne of observation without verification of What You See Ain't Always What You Get (behind their eyes) but in How Dogs Think
by Stanley Coren there is
a write-up that's pretty darned spot-on about "Stoic Dogs". Here is a link (starts mid-page 104 of the book and ends at the end of page 105, online).
UNITED WE STAND.
All site contents Copyright (c) 2002, 2010 Julie Rich.