Facts About Cats & Their Surprising Friendships

Cats are temperamental, and they’re fussy in their friendships too. Yet, they’re sometimes astonishingly friendly with animals that you’d least expect.

Apr 24, 2023By Abigail Gould
facts about cats surprising friendships

You should feel honored if you're the recipient of a cat's trust. After all, cats don't love just anyone! The social rules of cats tell us that they’re aloof, wary of newcomers, and will promptly evict any stranger to their territory. We know that, right?

Well, cats seem to change their minds... a lot!

Cats never fail to surprise us because we can never be sure what they’ll do next. That includes finding buddies in unlikely places! So, here's a little of what we know about cats and their interspecies friendships.

Can Cats Make Friends with Other Animals?

cat and goat side by side

What we’ve gradually learned about cats is this: far from living up to their reputation of being “solitary animals”, cats form deep, even profound social connections. Cats not only express affection but often demonstrate empathy, bonding, memories of attachment, and loneliness. These behaviors are intuitively felt by cat parents as well as observed by experts.

Aside from developing close bonds with their fellow cat buddies, cats also form interspecies relationships. Cats are still private creatures, so it’s rare to see them bonding with other animals. If you see your cat chilling contentedly with a rabbit, count yourself lucky and take a photo.

In short, yes, cats can make friends with other animals, but it’s not something you will see every day. Cats do sometimes spontaneously make unlikely friendships with other animals. However, these interactions should happen naturally, without human intervention. Trying to force—or even expect—animals to get along can go very badly!

When Do Dogs and Cats Get Along?

dog licking ginger cat

We know from life experience (and pictures on the internet) that dogs and cats can be best friends. However, while many multi-pet households are peaceful, most dogs and cats are more like tolerant roommates than BFFs.

When sharing our homes, animals have an unspoken understanding of territory. This sometimes means knowing who to avoid or when to keep out of the way.

Instinctively, dogs and cats have very different survival tactics. Dogs need the cooperation of a pack, whereas cats need a defined territory to call their own. Our pets might not function in survival mode in our homes, but that doesn't mean their fundamental instincts disappear.

cat and puppy on grass

So how do the social dynamics between cats and dogs work?

According to one study, in nature, cats are prone to be hunted by bigger animals, which include dogs. Some suggest that as pet parents, we're more worried about our dog hurting our cat. Thus, kitties often get away with more impolite behavior.

Cats are more likely to antagonize dogs in most cat-dog interactions. Not surprisingly, cats are the fussy ones with greater natural fear. Dogs are more likely to be accepting, so most of the time, cats will be the boss of the relationship.

There are also circumstances that contribute to a closer mutual bond between a dog and a cat. For example, when a puppy and a kitten grow up together. Or perhaps when a gentle adult dog— raised with cats—shows maternal behavior toward a new kitten.

Dogs and cats will only get along when the cat feels comfortable. Yes, everything depends on the cat. Plus, if we want everyone to live in harmony, we need to add our knowledge and respect for the natural differences in our pets’ behaviors.

Hanging Out with Horses

horse sniffing cat

It’s not easy to figure out why, but it’s safe to say that cats and horses like each other. Some animal behaviorists suggest that cats and horses share a few inherent traits that support their interspecies friendships. For example, both cats and horses are very playful. Also, they form bonds with humans based on trust, and both creatures are emotionally sensitive.

Horses and cats have always been a winning combination. Some animal welfare groups even partner with farms to rehome community cats. For example, the TEARS Feral Cat Project of South Africa supports horse owners that are willing to accept unadoptable, sterilized feral cats into their stables.

Cats and horses don’t mind cohabiting, making this arrangement mutually beneficial. Plus, the feral cats live in an environment they feel comfortable with. These cats have a strong hunting drive which protects horses from the nasties spread by vermin.

Friendly Neighbors

orange cat chasing black cat

There’s a commonly accepted fact that cats are territorial and circumvent conflict by avoiding each other. So, we expect that Buttons will chase off any other cat with the nerve to intrude on her territory.

However, in August 2016, The Mercury News posted a commentary about an unlikely friendship between two cats.

As the story goes, Morris, the orange cat, has a playmate that visits him every morning. This friendship is unusual because these are two adult cats that met independently one day and chose to engage in play together. Neither are worried about the territory business. And they have even established their little routine.

Sometimes it’s as though cats are trying to prove us wrong!

There are other interesting stories of cats belying their antisocial reputations and becoming unusually close with all the farm animals. For example, cats and goats are known to get along famously well, as are cats and donkeys. Not to mention cats and cows, such as Hershey and Rhys. There have even been occasional reports of cats and foxes not hating each other.

cat lying by horse

Cats impress us all the time especially when they find unexpected buddies and interspecies friendships!

As the gaps in our knowledge about cats’ social behavior gradually become filled, we begin to sense our own lumbering, clumsy slowness in relation to the quick sensitivity of the little ones in our custody. And then we start to see the intelligence of our pets.

When we as humans accept that what we know is only a fraction of the whole, we can start paying attention to the details that comprise the true nature of our cats. Only then do we really get to know them.

Abigail Gould
By Abigail Gould

Abigail’s experience with animals comes from growing up on a farm. She has been fortunate enough to look after cats, dogs, ducks, geese, chickens, and guinea pigs. Of all the pets she’s cared for, guinea pigs have been the most entertaining, dogs the most rewarding, and cats the most essential!