The Cow's Nose Shows How They're Feeling About Life

Nasal temperature in dairy cows is lowered by positive emotional states

Posted Jan 09, 2015

We all know that countless cows find themselves served up as food, millions upon millions suffering endless and egregious abuse and torture along the way to human forks, knives, spoons, plates, and glasses. While many people are working hard to end this unnecessary abuse, the reprehensible practices of factory farms continue worldwide.

Many people deny that cows and other "food animals" are sentient beings, or at least they act as if this is so. How they can do this given what we now know from detailed scientific research is beyond me. Cows are mammals, just like dogs, and all mammals (and of course many other animals) are known to experience a wide range of emotions. Skeptics also wrongly claim that because cows are "dumb," they don't experience deep and rich emotions. Of course, cows are not dumb, and the entailment between intelligence and the capacity to suffer is thoroughly illogical and unsupported (see for example, "Do 'Smarter' Dogs Really Suffer More than 'Dumber' Mice?" and "The Birds and the Bees and Their Brains: Size Doesn't Matter"). 

Recently we learned that a cow's ears indicate how they're feeling (please see "The Emotional Lives of Cows: Ears Tell Us They're Feeling OK") and now, a new research paper by Helen Proctor and Gemma Carder called "Nasal temperatures in dairy cows are influenced by positive emotional state," published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, shows that "that nasal temperature in cows may prove to be a useful measure of a change in emotional state." Specifically, these researchers found that a drop in nasal temperature was associated with a more positive emotional state induced by stroking the cows. They write, "We found that the mean nasal temperature of the cows dropped significantly during stroking, compared with the mean temperatures from both the pre-stroking and post-stroking conditions."

These data are extremely valuable and stress that we owe it to cows and other animals to give them the very best lives we can. It's easy to assess what they're feeling, and, indeed, they are feeling something, and we must use this information on their behalf. 

Note: I just learned of a study that showed a drop in peripheral comb temperature in laying hens anticipating a palatable food reward. 

The free teaser image can be found here. 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also)Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also), and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistenceThe Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (; @MarcBekoff