May 27, 2024


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In the animal kingdom, we see a variety of responses to sick members of our species. Of particular interest is the behavior of cats and dogs. Are our pets compassionate?

When a friend lies snorting, most people respond with compassion, leaving a cup of tea by the bed and making some chicken soup. It’s a different story when a stranger coughs on you on the subway. We prefer to keep our distance. But what actually happens to animals? Do dogs and cats notice when their animal friends are sick?

Insects prefer to keep their distance

Ants protect themselves from infection within their colony. This is what researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered. If the so-called foragers become infected while foraging outside the anthill, all employees are kept away from home. The burrow staff will take the brood and queen to a safe location. Bees also avoid sick colleagues.

The situation is different for primates. Like humans, primates care for infected friends and do not leave them. They are also grieving the death of a close friend. Dogs and cats also exhibit complex behaviors toward sick members of the same species.

A dog is lying on a cushion and a thermometer is placed in front of it.
Empathetic Roommate: A dog comforts a sick fellow dog. ©Russian Look/Barkin Sergei/IMAGO

Cats and dogs differ in their social behavior towards sick animals of the same species.

A question that comes to mind for many dog ​​and cat owners: Does my pet notice when one of its animal friends gets sick or dies? This means that the dog smells sick. Particularly when humans or animals are seriously ill and on the brink of death, certain scents are secreted. Dogs and cats detect these with their sensitive noses. There have also been repeated reports that dogs can smell tumors. If one animal repeatedly behaves abnormally towards another animal, this may be a warning sign of illness.

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When a friend gets sick, some dogs react like this:

  • They try to get close to sick animals.
  • They often snuggle up to him and rest their heads on their friends.
  • They carefully observe the affected area, sniffing and licking it.

Many cats also react when other members of their species become sick or dying. Contrary to popular belief, cats are not solitary creatures, but rather social creatures. When a friend disappears, they seem upset and even depressed. Some residents offer emotional support if the animal is sick and are unusually friendly. Some may not react at all or become aggressive. For example, if the other person went to the vet and smelled something dangerous.

Not surprisingly, dogs are empathetic.

Wolves live together in social groups. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that dogs feel compassion towards sick members of their species. Research has shown that dogs seek closeness from a distressed colleague, especially if it’s a close friend. Another study showed that dogs imitate spontaneous facial expressions similar to when people smile back when they encounter them on a walk.



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