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Do animals know they will die?

  • February 29th, 2008 @ 09:59 PM
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  • 30 replies
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Here's a question for you guys. Do you think animals have an awareness that they will one day die? Do you think animals have the ability to understand life and death?

I personally don't think animals know they will die. How could they? They see other animals die, but do you think animals truly understand what has happened when they see another animal die? Sure they eat other animals and kill eachother but do you think they are aware that they are ending another animals life? I think perhaps, but I don't think they understand exactly what this means.

At least animals in the wild might have the vague knowledge that it could happen to them. I don't think animals can relate knowledge like that to themselves though. They try to survive and stay alive but I think a lot of it is instinct. I think animals definitely understand the risk of pain and getting hurt, which drives them to survive, which in turn keeps them alive. But I don't think animals can understand the fact that too much pain would mean they would "cease to exist".

Many animals display what seems to be sadness when their babies are killed, but do you think that the knowledge that another animal was killed will effect them? I guess I don't think that animals can relate to death as we understand it.

Take a pet for example. They live day after day and lay around, eat, etc. Do they ever think to themselves (in whatever way they think) "I wonder if today will be my last?".

I'm not going to say I think 100% that they don't know they will die, and really I'm just trying to get some thoughts and discussion going. I will say though that if I had to answer the question "Do animals understand the fact that they will not keep living day after day" with a yes or no answer I would answer "no".

Keep in mind these are just my thoughts. I'd like to think that animals are capable of understanding more than we give them credit for so I'm open to other theories as well. I'm not necessarily basing any of this on research but I'd like to get a discussion going on the subject and see what you guys think.

Feel free to discuss.

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Reply Posted: February 29th, 2008 @ 10:04 PM
Well, don't forget, everything that we believe about life comes from our society. Animals are never taught to think of life in any special way whereas we believe and teach our children that life is special.

It's all self interest.


Reply Posted: February 29th, 2008 @ 11:01 PM
they probably don't know because they probably wouldn't even understand death, humans don't even fully understand it exactly.


Reply Posted: February 29th, 2008 @ 11:16 PM
Some animals exhibit an awareness of their own impending death in that they go off alone to die. This has been observed in elephants and some primates, cats will also do this. There has been relatively little research on animal intelligence, but when it is done it always shows that animals are more intelligent, more aware than we have hitherto given them credit for. Animal intelligence is vastly different than our own, they have senses that we lack and it's difficult to translate their experiences into things that we can understand.

An example of this is that dolphins have learned to recognize a couple of hundred words of our language, but we have yet to decipher even one of their "words" despite the fact that we know that they can communicate complex information. Other animals communicate in ways that are not obvious to us as well. We know that elephants use low-frequency sounds that travel great distances to "talk" to each other, but we don't know what their communication consists of yet. Whales use the same techique to span the vast open expanses of ocean. The term "instinct" mostly means that we don't have any idea why animals behave as they do.

Animal altruism is an interesting field because we had long ago decided that animals weren't capable of it, but research has shown surprising instances that are difficult to explain any other way. A coyote was shot (our usual response to many kinds of animals unfortunately) that had lost both front legs, but had learned to get around on its hind legs well enough to feed itself and remain healthy. The person who shot it had watched it for a bit and was amazed at its agility on just its hind legs. A very surprised veterinarian examined the animal and said it had been fit and healthy before it was gunned down. He also noted that it was an adult when the legs were lost--probably in a trap and that without the help of other coyotes there is no way that it could have lived long enough to heal and learn to use its hind legs so well. (It has been suggested that some human cared for it and then turned it loose but there was never any evidence of this.)

Peloris Jack was a dolphin (or porpoise) that guided ships through a narrow passage into a bay on the coast of New Zealand for several years--in-bound and out-bound--until some gun-dummy shot him. He was gone for several years but finally returned and continued to lead the ships in and out for another couple of years before disappearing.

Dolphins have rescued humans numerous times by supporting them or towing them to shore. A few times they have driven off sharks apparently to protect people in the water.

Animals have senses that allow them to know ahead of time about earthquakes and tsunamis--very few animals were killed in the tsunami that hit the coast of Thailand, they all moved inland ahead of the water.

There are also instances in which animals have willed themselves to die, they just laid down and for no apparent reason (other than heartbreak) they died. I remember reading not too long ago about a mated wolf pair captured in the wild and the female died from injury during the capture. The male wasn't injured and raged against his capture for a couple of days and then lay down and few hours later was dead. Humans have been known to do this as well, but we can only guess whether animals do it for similar reasons as people.

An interesting experiment that one can do if so motivated is to stop eating animals or wearing their skin. Once you do this for a time and stop seeing them as "things" for us to eat or wear or kill for fun, then you may begin to see them in a very different light. Very few people will ever experience animals this way since we are so enculturated to see animals as nothing more than resources, things with no intrinsic value, only utilitarian value. Sad really.


Reply Posted: March 1st, 2008 @ 10:27 AM
That's a really good post Mare. That's exactly the type of discussion I was hoping to get going here.

That's a good point about how some animals will go off on their own to die. Do you think that death is something that they know of years in advance though?

As for dolphins, I wish we could learn more about what they are saying. It would be really cool to be able to understand that. You're right though about how they are communicating things that we don't understand (being humans), and it would be difficult for us to realize what is going on since most of what they "say" is not something we would be looking for necessarily.

Here's a cool concept too. Gorillas and chimpanzees have been learning a version of our sign language since the 1960's.

Sign Language - Signing Animals - Gorillas - Chimpanzees Using Sign Language

Reminds me of the movie Congo but on a more realistic scale.


Reply Posted: March 1st, 2008 @ 04:28 PM
I beleive animals do know when they are dying because of their state of being. They may not grasp a philosophy on death but they know something is happening.


Reply Posted: March 3rd, 2008 @ 10:56 AM
I know a lot of people think that this kind of thing is flaky hoo-doo, but I honestly believe that some people can communicate with animals. I read a book by one of those people, and she gave numerous instances in which animals knew that their existence would change. They did not view death as an ending, rather a change in their plane of existence (for lack of a bette way to put it). The author of the book phrased it as "going to the spirit world".

I had some friends who had a very old Staffordshire terrier; he was about 12 years old. Every time I saw him, I'd get the distinct impression from him that he was ready to go. My friends weren't ready to let him go, so one day he went out in the driveway and laid down under the rear tire of their minivan, and she ran him over not knowing that he was there. I believe he did this on purpose.


Reply Posted: March 3rd, 2008 @ 11:08 AM
Originally Posted by Jeanie View Post
I know a lot of people think that this kind of thing is flaky hoo-doo, but I honestly believe that some people can communicate with animals. I read a book by one of those people, and she gave numerous instances in which animals knew that their existence would change. They did not view death as an ending, rather a change in their plane of existence (for lack of a bette way to put it). The author of the book phrased it as going to the spirit world
I believe people can communicate with animals, too. Just not as directly as two humans can, obviously. Animals have their own system of body language, scent and movement that they use so it's easy for us to identify a simple emotion, like happiness, but difficult to go beyond that.
Originally Posted by Jeanie View Post
I had some friends who had a very old Staffordshire terrier; he was about 12 years old. Every time I saw him, I'd get the distinct impression from him that he was ready to go. My friends weren't ready to let him go, so one day he went out in the driveway and laid down under the rear tire of their minivan, and she ran him over not knowing that he was there. I believe he did this on purpose.
So someone watched him go into the driveway and lie down? Why didn't they move him or tell someone? I'm sorry, I just don't believe this story unless someone knows that he did specifically that. I mean, was it sunny out? The dog may have just been looking for shade and may not have even laid under the rear tire first, he could have moved there.


Reply Posted: March 3rd, 2008 @ 11:13 AM
Originally Posted by Constantine View Post
So someone watched him go into the driveway and lie down? Why didn't they move him or tell someone? I'm sorry, I just don't believe this story unless someone knows that he did specifically that. I mean, was it sunny out? The dog may have just been looking for shade and may not have even laid under the rear tire first, he could have moved there.
No, she didn't realize he was there until she ran over him. He never laid under any of their cars; just that one time. Believe whatever you want. This thread isn't about whether you believe this story, it's about whether you believe animals know they will die.

Last edited by Jeanie; March 3rd, 2008 at 11:17 AM..


Reply Posted: March 3rd, 2008 @ 11:15 AM
I think they do.....some yrs ago my brother worked in a slaughter house and he would often say the cows had tears in thier eyes as they new they were about to culled?




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