Can Dogs and Cats Cry?

April 19, 2013

By Julia Williams

Have you ever seen your pet cry? And by “cry,” I mean actual tears from their eyes as an emotional response. Most people would say no; the general consensus is that animals lack the capacity for such a thing. We know that animals can “tear up” as a result of allergies, dust, upper respiratory infections, pollutants and such, but crying as an emotional response is believed impossible by most.

I don’t really like that word “impossible,” though. It would imply that we humans think we know everything there is to know about the emotional lives of animals. But how can we? Unless we are a dog, we can’t know what is in a dog’s mind or heart. We can form an opinion based on science and personal experience, but I think it would be arrogant for any human to say they know with certainty what emotions a dog or cat is capable of feeling.

Many scientists definitely have their own rigid thinking about the emotional capacity of animals. They base their opinion on carefully controlled research rather than the one-on-one bonding that takes place between people and their beloved pets. But here’s the thing:  a recent study proved that people could tell what emotion a dog was experiencing by looking at photographs of the dog’s face. The photos were taken after introducing stimuli designed to elicit a specific reaction from the dog.

Happiness was correctly identified by 88% of the study participants; anger was correctly identified by 70%. So if we can tell by a dog’s face whether he is happy, angry, sad, surprised or afraid, is it farfetched to believe we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the emotional capacity of animals? I don’t think so.

Jeffrey Masson, author of the bestselling book When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, believes that animals do lead complex emotional lives. To support his theory, Masson found hundreds of anecdotes from the published works and field studies of noted behaviorists, including Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Cynthia Moss.

Few scientists have acknowledged or researched animal emotions. Yet “most people who work closely with animals, such as animal trainers, take it as a matter of fact that animals have emotions,” wrote Masson. “Training an animal will meet with little success if the trainer has no insight into the animal’s feelings.”

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman also believes that animals lead complex emotional lives. “Science can’t prove it, but there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that dogs and cats have real feelings, just as powerful as our own. It’s just that I have never heard of a case of a dog or cat getting upset or depressed, and then crying real tears as a response,” said Dodman.

Searching online, I found a site that discussed the idea of animals crying tears as an emotional response. The writer asked for stories from people who had seen their animal cry, and the responses poured in. Nearly 100 people recounted tales of their pet crying; they spoke of tears of sadness, heartache, loneliness, frustration, tears of missing another animal or a person…even tears of joy. Could they all be wrong? Could each of those stories have a medical explanation for the tears?

Sure. But I like to think it’s equally possible that the anecdotes are in fact, proof that cats and dogs can cry. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, but does that mean it’s not possible? I can’t see the air, electricity or Mars, but I believe these things exist. We can’t see our emotions either, but there’s no doubt we all have them.

Have you ever seen a dog or cat cry real tears as an emotional response? Please share your story in the comments!

Top photo by kitty.green66
Bottom photo by Colin Davis

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Nikki George says:

    We fostered a dog who was pregnant for a local rescue group. We ended up keeping one of the puppies and we are very bonded with him. The mama rescue dog was only 12 pounds and had 6 puppies, and he was one who we had to assist with when he got stuck coming out and age wasn’t opening his bag up. He is now 8 months old and he cries when he is scolded for doing something naughty. He is generally a very good boy and doesn’t often end up in trouble. When I tell him he is naughty in my deep mom voice he has visible tears. He cries enough that we have to dry his face and it is obvious to anyone watching that he is crying. He does not have anything wrong with his eyes and they are not normally teary. I have never seen tears or wetness on his face for any other reason. He does not have any allergies or anything medically wrong.

  2. Matt says:

    I searched out this website as a response to seeing my dog cry emotional tears for the first time ever.

    I have a lab/German shepherd mix who loves to play ball. We were playing and she laid down to chew on it like she always does after running down the hall 10+ times. When I looked down I found out it wasn’t the ball she was chewing on but instead it was my shoe.

    I immediately raised my voice and yelled at her (the shoes were new) and told her to get in her bed very sternly. I looked at her and she laid her head on the side of the bed and was watching me clean up what was left of my shoe. After I finished, I sat back down and kept watching her, her eyes had welled up with tears to the point that they were not just running down her face, but in fact, creating a puddle on the tile floor at the edge of her bed. I felt so horrible and pet her to console her. She still knew what she did was wrong and continued to weep. Saddest moment I’ve ever experienced with an animal.

    I never struck her so it wasn’t pain related and it would be one heck of a coincidence that her allergies happened to flare up the same time I yelled. These were surely emotional tears.

  3. Erika says:

    My daughter and I were struggling to cut toe nails on our
    border collie mix, he was fighting us and yelping, he was not bleeding and we were very careful, he got away from us and ran to his crate, tucked his front paws and looked up at us and his eyes were wet with tears, not eye goop, but crocodile tears. I have never seen anything like that in any dog I ever had. I felt horrible and now he still needs two front toe nails clipped. Next time off to the groomer.

  4. Peggy Tilden says:

    My 3.5 lb female Maltese cries real tears every time I leave the house. Her little face is wet and brown with tears when I come home. After a few minutes, her face dries and is white and fluffy again. There is no doubt in my mind that she is sad and cries when I leave. It is the ONLY time her face is wet and dirty colored. She is 9 years old and has done this since she came to live with us at 10 weeks old. I KNOW she cries!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Our dog had cancer and we bright him home to spend the last days with him. Our girls didn’t leave him for 48 hours and they cried many many tears. And he would often cry with them. Real tears running out his eyes and his nose would run then too. Saddest thing ever.

  6. Debi says:

    Yes they do cry. I had a litter of five pups that I very much hand selected the new owners. I housebroke all the pups and taught them their names i have them early crate training and gave them all the love i would give to the one I kept. Every time a puppy would leave to go to their forever home I would always shed a few tears and so would they. The puppy I kept I truly believe he thinks that anyone who leaves through the front door never comes back. I have had to incorporate new training by the door because he is very close to me. so now he knows he doesn’t run out the front door and even if I leave I will always come back. but none the less when I leave there are always tears and when I come back tears of happiness. I noticed the exact same behavior from all of the pups and their father as well.

  7. Rebecca says:

    My 7 year old tabby has had his whole world crushed since I adopted another cat a few days ago. I’ve been giving them both love and attention, and have also kept the new cat separated from my older cat. However, they had their first real introduction this morning. It didn’t go so smoothly, and after it was over I watched my tabby cry big tears as he ate his wet food. Never in my life have I seen him do this, even though I have witnessed his emotions before. He’s been my only pet since he was a kitten, even though I’ve had two children since. I feel like I’ve broken his heart by bringing the new cat home.

  8. Cris OBrien says:

    I have Border Collie who cries tears every time I leave with a suitcase. My boys no longer live at home, and whenever they visit she cries tears when they leave too. At first I thought it was my imagination ,because she looked so sad, but if I pet her face when it looks like her eyes are filled with tears, it is sopping wet. Normally her face is dry, but not when she is crying.

  9. Allison says:

    Tonight i was housesitting, but mostly sitting with my dad’s golden retriever Maverick. Maverick and I go way back, but over the last two years he has formed a very special bond with an American bulldog, Buster, and Buster’s sweet parents. My mom, and Maverick’s, died of leukemia in 2011.

    After dinner, play and a walk, I turned on a movie. Maverick started crying. No tears, but the saddest mournful sobbing I have ever heard. His eyes spoke volumes. It lasted almost a minute and if I didn’t know he was a pup I would have sworn he was human.

    I called the neighbors, they greeted him with open arms and understanding and unconditional love. I really miss my pup and get spooked in the empty house, but if he ever doubted, I love you Mav!

  10. zoey says:

    My late Tasha had a litter if pups and one was very sick. We were sitting in living room and tasha came out and layed her head on my lap and wept for a very long time. I had my boyfriend go look in at the pups and the sick one had went to the bridge. Just now, my molly, a three year old rottie, sobbed. I layed down on the floor with her and just loved on her alot and she began sobbing, tears flowing, and her nose was running alot as well. I wrapped her up and layed my head on her chest and her sobs were light but quivery, kind of like when we sob and try to catch our breath. I have no idea why she was crying. But i do know whatever the reason, it was real.

  11. Cathy says:

    I have seen two cats cry in my life. George cried when he thought my husband and I were splitting up after a bad fight. Juliet cried a bunch, a frustrating, I am so pissed at you, I can’t even look at you type of crying. She was mad and hurt emotionally and the tears were flowing.

  12. Shawna says:

    I saw my cat cry just last night. She is about a year old and until now, I’ve pretty much babied her. My family thought it was funny, because when I came home from a long day at work, she would wait at the door as soon as she heard my car, crawl into my arms and want me to coddle her in my arms like a baby. She slept under my chin every night. Followed me everywhere all day. Two days ago I brought home a kitten, Sophie went nuts. I’ve been giving them space and weaning them into getting to know each other. But I’ve been able to see the hurt and confusion in her face. When I walked into the room last night, she sat at the bottom of my steps and in a brief glance I noticed her eye was watery, she looked at me and turned her head downward as if to hide it. I initially thought ‘maybe she bumped her eye, I better check’ I sat down, and she had a tear line down her cheek. She let out the softest meow and rested her head in the nook of my neck. Her body language in that moment was enough to convince me that there was a feeling associated with the tears she had produced.

  13. meowmeowmans says:

    We’ve never seen our animals cry tears, but we do know they have emotions and experience sadness.

  14. CATachresis says:

    I have never seen it, but it is an interesting concept. We know animals can be depressed, but expressing it with tears is a new one on me!

  15. Deb Barnes says:

    I have never seen actual tears, but I have witnessed extreme emotional behavior from one of my cats who was experiencing a loss. It was a very surreal moment and one I will never forget. In a more general sense, I see my cats exhibit a wide range of emotions on a daily basis!

  16. Loving Max says:

    Interesting topic..I personally haven’t seen one cry but it wouldn’t shock me too either. I totally think they feel emotion! Correct that I KNOW they do!

  17. Brian says:

    I actually did tear up a bit when my Brother Ivan died, seriously, Dad wiped them away for me.

  18. I don’t think they can cry. But I do know by and large when my girls are/were sad.

  19. Marg says:

    I believe that dogs and cats and ponies do feel emotion but they don’t cry tears. I had a pony grieve for 3 weeks when her half sister that had been with for 12 years had to go to the bridge. I have also had cats that grieve and sometimes never get over losing their best friend or brother.

  20. finnhoward says:

    I haven’t seen tears, but I know when my Finnie is sad. I wonder though…never say never!

  21. WE don’t know about TEARS butt we DO cry when we are sad… We make noise and we Slump physically. Some Peeps who are Sad Hurt do NOT CRY the actual TEARS… butt they feel the same thingys that WE do.
    If we can be HAPPY we can be SAD and we can SHOW our Happiness and we DO show our sadness.
    Peeps Clap their Hands when they are happy… we don’t do that either. Same Difference. We are just sayin.