Myth: Bears don’t feel pain like people do.
Untrue. People, bears, dogs, and other mammals have similar nervous systems to avoid pain and protect their bodies from injury (Fox 2007). Bears have unusually keen senses of smell, taste, and hearing, and they react to very light touch on their fur. No scientific evidence suggests that bears feel less pain than other mammals, including humans.
Pain physiology: Intense pain and fear trigger the release of adrenalin and other chemicals* that aid defense or escape (Fox 2007, M. W. Fox personal communication 2009). Such strong physiological responses rapidly deplete the body’s resources, especially liver glycogen, and cause lactic acid build-up in the muscles. Prolonged build-up causes exertional myopathy (also called capture myopathy), which can be fatal in bears (Cattet et al. 2008).
Photo description: A non-target victim of a trap set for another species, this old female lies exhausted, dehydrated, and grimacing after days of struggle. Her foot is crushed. Her eyes are glazed, and she hasn’t enough saliva to lick her dry nose. She was freed, but whether she survived is unknown. Bears often die from the myopathy that results from prolonged pain, fear, and struggling.
*Other chemicals include opiates/endorphins, noradrenalin, corticosteroid hormones, and benzodiazepines.
Fox, M. W. 2007. Dog Body, Dog Mind: Exploring Canine Consciousness and Total Well-Being. Lyons Press, New York. 256p.
Cattet, M., Stenhouse, G., and Bollinger, T. 2008. Exertional myopathy in a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) captured by leghold snare. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 44(4):973-978.