Farming and Animal Husbandry

Do animals ever intentionally hurt themselves?
Answered by Animal Planet
  • Animal Planet

    Animal Planet

  1. Humans have been known to injure themselves in a variety of ways, from cutting themselves with razor blades to burning their skin. But do other animals ever engage in this type of behavior? Sometimes animals will practice what is known as self-injurious behavior (SIB). The exact reasons for this aren't known, and probably vary on a case-by-case basis, but some potential causes could include stress, isolation, fear, disease, malnutrition and boredom.

    Animals practice SIB in different ways. For example, some birds will pluck out their feathers and pick at their flesh. Primates, on the other hand, might bite themselves. Dogs and cats tend to lick themselves excessively. It's believed these actions create calming sensations that help the animals as they try to cope with their nerve-wracking or traumatic situations. Because many of these animals are social creatures, and touch and interaction are very important to them, isolation may cause them to over-preen or over-groom themselves [source: Newfoundland News]. These symptoms may also indicate an underlying medical condition.

    Although the animals are not trying to kill themselves, SIB can sometimes set the stage for more serious -- and potentially life-threatening -- medical conditions. Some studies have been conducted to determine in what situations animals are most likely to harm themselves. For example, a survey of primates in British and Irish zoos found that the incidence of SIB in the zoos was very low, and not a major problem. The key to prevention might be frequent interaction with the animals [source: Hosey and Skyner].

    While many believe they've observed suicide-like behaviors in some animals -- lemmings running off cliffs, for example, or whales beaching themselves -- it's likely that these behaviors can be attributed to other things. Most experts believe that animals simply are not capable of taking their own lives.

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