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Do Animals Keep Pets?

lion and dachshund animals keep pets
Image by Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Humans have built a unique bond with animals such that we keep pets and shower them with love and care. But do animals also keep pets or form a similar kind of relationship across species lines?

Well-Known Animal Bonds

dog and cat
Image by Andrew S via Unsplash

There are many stories of animals forming a bond or taking care of each other in the most unexpected manner. For instance, the heartwarming tale of Koko, a black gorilla, and her cute “pet” kitten. Further, there have been stories of an elephant befriending a dog, black crows accepting a cat, or even a goose becoming companions with a tortoise. 

Experts Weigh In

Experts like Harold Herzog, who is a professor emeritus at Western Carolina University in North Carolina, have studied such instances. According to Prof. Herzog, true instances of animals keeping pets without human intervention are exceedingly rare. The number of known cases where animals have formed cross-species relationships in the wild similar to the concept of “pet-keeping” is five or even fewer.

Wild Instances Examined

buffalo bird
Image by Shotify via Unsplash

Despite the scarcity of documented examples, there are extraordinary instances of wild animals adopting members of other species. They include instances such as a dolphin who adopted a whale calf and a lion caring for a leopard cub. But it is unclear whether the connection formed is similar to a parent adopting a child or someone a adopting a pet. These rare occurrences challenge our understanding of animal behavior and suggest a complex layer of social and emotional intelligence at play.

Pet-Keeping: Emotional and Social Aspects

monkey and cat
Image by OlegDoroshenko via Depositphotos

Experts like Prof. Herzog suggested that humans are the only animals that keep pets, and the rest do not. Theories suggest that pets can signal nurturing abilities, aid in developing caretaking skills for children, provide companionship in an increasingly isolated society, and bring positivity into our lives. However, these benefits may be contingent on the individual circumstances and experiences with the pet. 

Animal Relationships: A Different Perspective

dog and cat
Image by Ioandan Plesa via Pexels

Animals in the wild rarely exhibit behavior akin to human pet-keeping. While many animals demonstrate the need for companionship and care for their offspring, the cognitive abilities and cultural influences that drive humans to keep pets are uniquely human traits. This distinction lies in our capacity to form deep emotional attachments and recognize the sentience of other beings. This aspect is not evidently mirrored in the animal kingdom to the same extent.


The exploration into how animals keep pets vs human pet ownership underscores the unique cognitive and emotional complexities of humans. While rare interspecies bonds in animals offer fascinating insights, they differ fundamentally from the culturally and emotionally driven practice of pet-keeping by humans, highlighting our distinct place in the natural world.

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