Scientists have recently agreed that identifying the emotions of an animal can help to understand their behaviour. Understanding the emotions of your pet
As a pet owner, you will have come to recognise your cat's various moods from her body language, facial expressions, noises and the way she moves. We instinctively know whether our cats are excited, happy, sad, frustrated or anxious.
However, emotions have been a topic of hot debate among behavioural experts because it's very hard to quantify or measure emotions.
While it is clear that your cat has a rich emotional life, scientists cannot measure exactly how happy or fearful she may be. What are emotions?
Emotions give cats the impulse to act in response to an event or situation. For example, the negative emotion of fear may cause cats to actively defend themselves.
Emotions are divided into positive or negative feelings and these have rising or decreasing scales. For example, pleasure can increase to feelings of elation and ecstasy, while frustration can increase to anger and rage.
Cats with behaviour problems usually demonstrate the extremes of an emotional scale when they exhibit their problem behaviour.
Recent research has demonstrated that all mammals including cats have seven fundamental, basic, emotional systems that provide the ability to react to information about what enters the brain via the senses.
These seven include a seeking system to look for food, a fear system to respond to unfamiliar events that may be dangerous, a play system and a care system to raise offspring and form vital social attachments.
More recently evolved areas of the advanced human brain can process this emotional capability into the more elaborate emotions of love, shame, contempt, worry and so on. Whilst we don't associate such 'higher feelings' with cats, this does not in any way detract from the fact they feel more basic emotions like happiness, sadness, anger and fear in the same way that we do.
Modern pet behaviourists realise that emotions are, in fact, essential to how animals learn anything at all, even if precise measurement of these feelings remains elusive. They use emotional assessment as the basis of treating pet behaviour problems. Emotional problems
Recognising that cats have emotions has led allowed animal behaviourists to better understand behavioural problems such as aggression, excessive grooming and nervousness.
Typically an assessment of your cat's emotional state will take place over three stages:
- An emotional assessment of the cat at the time the problem is observed.
- A mood state assessment of how the cat feels and behaves generally.
- A reinforcement assessment of exactly which factors, external and internal are maintaining the problem behaviour.
It is important that you also consider your emotional responses towards your cat too. Owners can feel love, happiness, frustration and even anger towards their pets. It is important to seek help with your pet if the negative emotions outweigh the positives.