“And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.” – Genesis 1:30
The word translated “life” here is not the typical Hebrew word for life. Instead it is the word normally translated “soul” (nefesh or נפש). It is the same word used in Genesis 2:7 translated “being”, “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7
The NIV does us somewhat of a disservice here. You would expect these two passages, which both contain the phrase “breath of life” to have the same words in Hebrew. But they don’t. I don’t know if they avoided this to avoid confusion on saying animals have a soul or what.
To give another example of the word used in Genesis 1:30 to describe animals, it is the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5 – “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
The basic idea with this word (nefesh) is that we have life within us and the essence of that life is described as a soul. Animals have life and humans have life. Both then have nefesh (the essence of being alive). When we use the word soul we are normally expressing the concept of a “spirit.” We just happen to have those confused in our language today in a way that is not consistent with the Bible.
So what is the difference between mankind and animals? Humans have an eternal spirit while animals do not. We see that in Genesis 2:7 where God breathes (basically same word for spirit) life into Adam. The animals don’t have the same priviledge. While Genesis 1:30 says animals have the “breath of life” in the NIV I am not finding it in the Hebrew texts at my disposal at the moment. The distinction between mankind and animals is not the soul. The distinction is the spirit. So animals do have a soul (the very fact that they have been given life by God) but they do not have an eternal spirit that only mankind is priveledged to have been gifted with. We have just had our terms confused.
To see interlinear Hebrew texts on these see this link.