Animal Sentience

Functional Anatomy of Animal Sentience: The Cattle as a Case Study

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By Dr Ibikunle Faramade 

Sentience is the ability to perceive and feel things. Scientifically speaking, an animal is sentient, if it is capable of being aware of its surroundings, its relationships with other animals, humans and of sensations in its own body, including pain, hunger, heat or cold. Just like humans, these animals try to avoid sufferings and seek positive experiences that help them to sustain expressions of positive emotions.

The fact that animals are sentient beings have been known to humans for many years and it has been established that the way they feel pain is similar to that of humans. Truly, unlike humans, animals cannot verbally report their feelings (both positive and negative) but, they usually express their feelings through their behaviors. For example, play behavior is widespread in mammals and many birds. Young calves display playful fights and prance about, young chickens jump around flapping their wings.

Animals also find pleasure in the search for food, grooming, sexual activities, basic comforts like basking in the sun etc. They are able to express their feelings because they have five senses like humans, i.e. sense of touch, sense of smell, ability to see, ability to taste and ability to hear.

Illustration of the Nervous System of the Cattle that Makes them Respond to Environmental Stimuli

This is the focus of this column today, i.e., exploring why and how animals are able to respond to environmental stimuli.

  1. Sense of Taste

Herbivores generally have far more taste buds than humans and almost double in most cases. On average, cattle have around 25,000 while humans have around 10,000 taste buds. Herbivores have so many taste buds because they need to be able to tell if a specific plant contains dangerous toxins. Dogs have about 1, 700 while cats have fewer than 500, being around 470 to be exact. Pigs have estimated 14,000 taste buds. It should be noted, however, that, tastes are based on human sensations and some comparative physiologists caution that each animal probably lives in its own “taste world”. For animals, it may be more appropriate to discuss tastes as being pleasant, unpleasant or indifferent. The bottom line is that animals have sense of taste, serving their needs, depending on their type of diet.

Sense of Taste
  1. Sense of Touch

Cattle have a very sensitive skin and can flick flies off from localized areas. Cows respond to touch and use it to communicate with one another. This is due to rich nervous supply of the skin. They also use their tails to complement warding- off of flies or any other irritants. The head and the neck regions of the cattle are rich in touch receptors.

Mutual Grooming Facilitates Recognition of Herds Members, Bonding and Recognition of Breeding Needs
  1. Sense of Smell

Cattle have a better sense of smell than many people. Their sense of smell is so powerful that they can perceive smell up to 6 miles away. The smell of blood can cause great panic. They are also able to recognize one another and breeding needs. Mutual grooming is important in cattle, especially in mature animals. Dams lick and groom their calves up to the point of weaning.

  1. Sense of Hearing

Cattle are sensitive to high frequency sounds which people cannot hear. These high frequency sounds can increase arousal and excitement while low tones are more relaxing for them. It’s interesting to note that cows exposed to familiar low tone music in the milking palor have been found to produce more milk than those that are not exposed to music. Music, especially at low volume enhances positive emotions resulting in high productivity!

  1. Sense of Vision/ Sight

Cattle have well developed eyes that could differentiate colors but not as much as in humans. The positioning of the eyes allow for very wide peripheral vision along the side. They have close to 360 vision as they move around when grazing. Cattle can recognize different people by their shape and color of clothing.

Organs of Vision, Smell, Hearing and Touch Illustrated

In conclusion, these qualities of sentience are shared by all vertebrate animals. Our dealings with them, therefore, should be with compassion and high sense of responsibility.

Dr. Ibikunle Faramade is a veterinary pathologist, sustainable development practitioner, animal welfare advocate and a lecturer at the Federal College of Animal Health & Production Technology, Apata. Ibadan. He’s the C.E.O of the Society for Animal Rights Protection, a non-profit and a non-governmental organization dedicated to the promotion of animal welfare, animal rights and prevention of cruelty to animals. , +2348028305284.

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