Do animals feel shame?

One of our cats is Male.

He has fairly recently reached feline adolescence. I have, only once, caught him

licking his erect penis. Which I think is safe to suspect is the male feline equivalent of having a wank. Not many humans are able to lick their erect penis.

Thing is - He seemed to be embarrased by this, and did the cat equivalent of “ahem, er, just erm, looking at this interesting pattern on the carpet. Right, off to do something essential somewhere else”. (It goes without saying that this act can quite possibly be the most embarrasing thing a human could be caught doing. Being caught with another person is not quite as embarassing because at least you’re cool enough to convince someone else to do it with you)

So, do animals feel shame?

Often, animals don’t do things according to human’s reasoning for their actions. We like to think that they have the same motivations, morals, and so forth that we have. For example, grooming makes a cat more vulnerable to attack, so your cat’s action may have been motivated by a distraction from grooming rather than shame.

BTW, a male cat has spiny structures on his penis…I would guess that lingual stimulation on the penis would be painful.

I don’t think animals feel shame. Dogs may act like they do while we are watching, but with no human interaction, anything goes.

Shame? They damned well better! The little perverts don’t wear pants.

Slightly more seriously, I would swear I’ve seen guilty behavior in dogs. But cats? Fu!

I am pretty sure I have seen clear examples of shame in many dogs including the ones that I have had. There isn’t a good way to interview them about it after the fact but I think it is there for the smarter ones at least. Cats OTOH are sociopaths by nature and only care about themselves and what they can get away with. The best you can hope for is to have one that responds to punishment really well.

I’d say I’ve seen most major emotions humans have in both cats and dogs. While I doubt it as sophisticated as the human version, I think something resembling most of the emotions is there.

My cats BIGGEST and most obvious and funniest one IS shame, or something close.

For years he has loved on me and me only. He would not give the SO the time of day and if she held him, he would fight to get away and then run and get in my lap to get the cooties off.

Well, about a year ago, he started “messing” around her on the the downlow late at night or early in the morning when she was outside having a smoke. All would be fine and he would be all smoozy with her, unless I happend to “catch” them in the act. Then he would be all like “oh shit, I’ve been CAUGHT !” and run away.

Now my two timing kitty will even do it when I am right there, but if I give him a dirty look he will stop and come over to me instead.

Walruses don’t.

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I’d say animals are better than people at picking up your reactions.

In other words when you came in and saw your cat, you look ashamed for catching Mr Cat in action and the cat picked up on your reaction and reacted to your body signals.

Like when I had a dog and something was scattered on the floor, I’d say “Did you do that?” To the dog and he’d look all guilty. Of course the dog has no idea but is simply reacting to the fact I am displeased.


All he had to do is note my presence. Maybe he can read minds instead. Of course NOW we make a game of it, but it certainly did not start that way. In the begining and for awhile it was nothing more than just being able to barely see me through the glass door or window.

The old dog did something similiar a few times when he was caught sleeping when we got home rather than him greeting us at the door/guarding the house.

My aunt had a furry “kid” - a poodle - we were walking somewhere and the dog did something bad (forgot what, ran out into the road), and my aunt chewed him out for it. He was very, very, very contrite and slowly ambled along, head down, looking guilty as charged. When my aunt was NOT looking at him, he dropped the “I’m sorry” act and trotted along like a perfectly normal dog. When she turned to speak to him, he immediately slowed down, put his head down, and gave her the big sad puppy eyes. Darndest thing I ever saw, that dumb animal knew how to “act”.

I doubt animals feel anything (anything “emotional”, that is). Of course, there will be a thousand people replying to say “but my pet really loves me! I know, I can see it in their eyes!”

I think it’s all a bunch of projection.

Maybe it was just its owner projecting, but I once saw a dog wearing a post-surgery cone collar hide behind a bush.

Maybe he saw something shiny behind the bush.

I don’t doubt much of it is projection. Or at least exageration through projection. But IMO not all of it all of the time.

However, their brains have the same fundamental structure our does. Their biochemistry is basically the same. Basic emotions seem to me to be more based on these things than some highly formed highly level human intellectual abilities.

If anything, for many human emotional reactions, I’d say the emotions come first and post emotion intellectual justification actually comes after the fact.

If nothing else, humans are animals and animals are animals. Why the hell WOULDNT there be some similarities at a basic level?

As an aside. I recall a study recently where they identified basic emotions in some primate. They identified obvious ones like anger, fear, and jealousy. But what I found really funny was that also identified disgust. I guess even the other primates are tired of the same old shit over and over.

Yes animals have the “same fundamental structure” as we do, for the most part. Their brains are composed of neurons, connected by synapses, and chains of firing neurons function in similar ways, with the similar chemicals. But it’s not the building blocks that create self awareness, it’s a particular kind of structuring, developed extensively only recently.

What’s interesting is that all emotions (and their corresponding outward signals) would serve their purpose equally well even without actually feeling them. One could have all the physiological reactions of fear, and the heightened “awareness”, adrenaline, etc. would aid escape, and facial expressions could communicate information without either party experiencing anything.

We see all the external signs of emotion in animals, and naturally feel that they must feel what we do when we show those signs. But consider the following:

  1. self awareness requires some still unknown arrangement of neural connections and networks
  2. presumably, this is quite complicated and costly to create and maintain
  3. emotion, when broken down to its constituent parts, does not necessitate a active awareness to serve a function
  4. self awareness seems to be closely correlated with areas of the brain that are much more developed in humans than say dogs.
  5. before the growth of the prefrontal cortex in humans, (for many reasons I don’t know, probably linguistic and so on…) animals had no real reason to expend resources growing and maintaining extra brainage to add no more function. Unless they went all the way and developed language and much more brain power so on, which we did.

I propose a theory (I’m sure it’s not original) that emotions are essentially physiological packages of beneficial reactions to certain situations. It is easy to see how they can naturally evolve from very simple reactions without at any point requiring the development of consciousness. Therefore our human brand of emotion, which we experience vividly, is the product of the merging of old mechanical emotions and our newfound self awareness.

Yes it’s a crackpot unprofessional theory, but I figure it might be food for thought.

I’ve seen my male cats “cleaning the weenie” and it never occurred to me there was anything masturbatory about it. They were always very matter of fact about it and didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves at all. When I’d have a giggle at the sight, their expression always seemed to say, “What? Don’t you clean yours?”

This I agree with. The most recent book I’ve read on dog behavior Inside of a Dog (which I thought pretty much crap - th that’s a different discussion), maintained that dogs are better at reading humans than pretty much any other animal - including primates or wolves. Talked about various specifics - such as dogs’ ability to follow nonverbal cues as subtle as following the direction of our gaze.

I think dogs have tremendous capabilities, and interact intimately with humans. But in nearly all situations I think it inaccurate to attribute shame - or most other human emotions - to dogs.

But at some point IMO it becomes the equivalent of a Turing test for emotion.

How much of actual human emotion is just reacting/interacting with OTHER humans and the results of having been raised in a social society/civilization? Is shame inate in humans or due to social upbring and expections of fellow humans?Haven’t we humans just trained each other like we are training our dogs and cats?

How much and what kind of emotions would a human have if he/she was was dumped as an infant and grew up in some tropical paradise that didnt even have other animals to interact/socialize with?

If by inaccurate you mean not exactly the same in terms of the breadth, depth, and intellectual sophistication that humans experience emotions, yeah I’ll heartily agree with that.

That there isnt even remotely a spark of “something” similiar in at least some of our brighter pets? That I don’t agree with.

Very good point.

No, I think that the discussion between you and I would concern the facets and extent of that “spark.” WRT “shame,” first we would need to hammer out an agreement as to the exact definition of that emotion, and then we could discuss the extent to which dogs experience/manifest it.

I haven’t given this tremendous thought, but I think I perceive shame to be a more complex - “higher”, if you will - emotion. Which I think I believe beyond dogs. But I would probably volunteer that dogs would perceive various of “shame’s” constituent parts.

There are probably deeper and shallower levels to it. At its most basic, I’d define “shame” as ‘the act of internalizing social guilt for some action which is considered by one’s society to be disgraceful’.

For animals, this raises a number of problems, assuming for the moment that they consider their owners part of their “society”: first, it is difficult to know how much they have “internalized”. All animals capable of even minimal thought fear punishment, so arguably a reaction by a pet to some activity disapproved of by its owner may net be “shame” but merely “fear of punishment”. The cat jumps off the table because it knows I don’t want it up there, and will forcibly remove it. Is the cat “ashamed” of being caught on the table?

But then, how much of human shame is merely fear of punishment? The politician caught cheating on his wife expresses “shame”, but is he or is he not merely the equivalent of the cat caught on the table?

Not my eclectus parrot. He’ll walk around the apartment humping things left and right. He does this daily, for roughly nine months a year.