A dog becomes inseparable from her BFF the elephant. A crow adopts and becomes buddies with a kitten. A dog and lion become roommates in a zoo. How do two animals that are so different from each other, and sometimes who are natural enemies, become friends for life?
According to Jeffrey Masson, a psychologist and author of many animal behavior books, most of these odd friendships happen because our dogs and cats are already in a cross-species relationship - with us. That lays the groundwork. If a person brings another animal into the household, such as a rabbit or bird, the dog or cat is more likely to accept it, and could even become friends with it.
Masson experimented with this on his own. He raised a dog, cat, rabbit, three rats and two chickens to see if they would become close friends. His dog and chickens were on friendly terms. The chickens took issue with the rabbits. But they mostly became friends, and he wrote the book, Raising the Peaceable Kingdom based on the experience. His cat and rabbit were particularly close. "Our cat, Tamaiti, was in the habit of actually sleeping with one paw around Hohepa, our rabbit. They would cuddle like this for hours," Masson recalled.
It makes perfect sense for our pets to coexist with each other. They have to share space and usually want to stay in the good graces of the person feeding and caring for them. But some friendships go beyond coexisting, and some happen between animals that are not two pets sharing a home.
Most friendships that form between species such as dog and squirrel or cat and rabbit begin with adoption. A mother dog or cat will care for and even nurse abandoned young. The maternal instinct is almost universal, so a mom will care for babies, no matter who they happen to be – even if it's a natural enemy.
Many friendships begin when both animals are very young and are simply raised together. Puppies and kittens have no problem hanging out with rodents or birds, especially if the other animal is also a baby.
And sometimes friendships form between adult animals when one is injured or weak and needs care.
Other friendships are just hard to explain. A dog and an 8,700-pound Asian elephant became best friends at an elephant sanctuary. Both were adults and neither was injured. There are other dogs at the sanctuary, and certainly other elephants, yet this dog and elephant chose a best friend outside their own species. While the other dogs and elephants merely share space and coexist, this pair does everything together by choice. When the dog was injured and had to stay inside, the elephant held vigil until the dog could return.
A wild crow adopted a feral kitten in a backyard in Massachusetts, which is an even more remarkable friendship. Crows eat small animals. They are also known to be mischievous and clever, just like cats. The crow could easily have had the weak little cat for dinner. But instead, the crow fed and cared for the cat, even kept it safe. And cats, of course, love to hunt birds. Once the cat got a little bigger and stronger, she could've turned on the trusting crow. Instead, cat and crow stayed friends for life.
It's much more natural for a dog to befriend another animal, simply because dogs are wired to be social. They need interaction and seek out companionship with other dogs and humans. It's not a leap to buddy up to some other animal, too.
But cats are all descended from the European Wild Cat, which is a completely solitary species. Cats sometimes have trouble making friends with other cats, let alone another person or animal. To be our pets, cats must overcome their solitary tendencies. But cats have adapted quite well and once they allow a human in their lives, allowing other animals in is a little easier.
For whatever reason these friendships form, they are wonderful to watch. They serve as a reminder that perhaps we are not so different from each other as we may appear. As Jeffery Masson puts it, "These friendships are unnatural, but a nice kind of unnatural, don’t you think?"
Photos of dogs and cats with all kinds of friends:
Videos of Dogs and Friends
Dog and Elephant
Dog and Lion
Videos of Cats and Friends
Cat and Crow
Cat and Parrot