Animal Sentience: Do Animals Think and Feel?


In the recent CBC podcast “The inner lives of animals: Treating mental illness in zoos,” CBC reporter Jian Gomeshi spoke to Alex Halberstadt, who wrote “Zoo Animals and Their Discontents” for The New York Times Magazine. The two discussed the science behind animal behavioural therapy, understanding animal cognition, and the question of whether animals should be kept in captivity.

“For most pet owners, the idea that an animal thinks and feels isn’t controversial at all. Most people who live with a dog or a cat will probably say their pet has a personality and an identity and feels fear and love,” says Halberstadt.

For years, animal behaviourists have been treating zoo animals for myriad mental illnesses, including depression, phobias, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Finally, thanks to behavioural studies and new techniques in brain imaging, there is a growing recognition of animal sentience in the scientific community.

“We know, for instance that shore crabs feel pain, that finches experience REM sleep, that chimps, for example, can experience empathy and sometimes help each other without expecting anything in return,” Halberstadt continues. “New discoveries show animals are more like us than we thought.”

These studies continue to demonstrate that animals feel pain just like humans and deserve to be free from harm. Treating these sentient beings with compassion and respect begins with taking them off your plates. To learn how to make cruelty-free food choices visit