Why Do Dogs Adopt Other Animals?

chick on dog's head

The words "dog adoption" probably conjure up images of people visiting an animal shelter and discovering a canine soulmate they can't wait to take home. It's an act of caring and devotion that makes life better for all involved (especially children!).

But there's another very different kind of dog adoption that can also be characterized as an act of caring and devotion: when dogs adopt other animals. This inter-species "adoption" is the maternal instinct taken to a higher level.

Inter-species Adoption: Why Dogs Choose Other Animals

Altruism in animals — in which animals, often of different species, bond with or help each other — has been discussed and researched by biologists and animal behavior experts for quite some time. For us humans — especially dog lovers — one of the most touching examples of this behavior is when a nursing dog adopts newborns from another species. Female dogs are more likely to adopt than male dogs, and they tend to choose young mammals to mother as their own pups.

One of the reasons we love dogs so much is because they’re so generous with their love. That's why stories of dogs adopting youngsters from other species (strange as the individual cases may sometimes be) don't strike us as impossible. Dogs are social animals willing to add both canine and non-canine members to their pack.

When Dogs Adopt Other Animals

There’s no shortage of documented examples of inter-species adoption involving dog + other. The videos on YouTube alone could easily keep you busy for several happy hours. A Google search also delivers many heartwarming examples.

Here are some of our favorite examples of inter-species dog adoption:

Dogs + Wolf Cubs

Because dogs and wolves are canine cousins, this combination isn’t surprising. Still, when you hear stories of dogs raising wolf cubs in zoos and conservation centers, your heart goes out to both the mom and the youngster. Those wolf cubs have excellent role models in their adoptive doggie parents.

cat and dog playing

Dogs + Kittens

Those of us who have both dogs and cats in our homes know that — cliché cartoon storylines aside — these two species are capable of forming strong bonds. It's not surprising, then, to come across stories (and videos) of mother dogs nursing cute kittens.

However, this situation takes on a new dimension when the kitten isn't a domestic cat, but a panther or tiger. Big cats that are reared from a very young age by a dog have been known to form a strong maternal bond, even as the adopted cat grows to be much larger than their mother! Stories like these have been reported in places as far apart as China, England and Kansas.

fluffy dog and pig

Dogs + Other Non-canine Mammals

This rather broad category includes dogs that have adopted pigs, deer, squirrels and monkeys. Granted, not all of these adoptions involve nursing, but in many cases the "parent" dog becomes a surrogate adult leader for a very young member of a very different species. Some research posits that mother dogs have a knack for sniffing out the pheromones of young mammals, leading to them mothering many types of fuzzy, warm-blooded babies.

pincher with chick

Dogs + Birds

Birds of a feather may flock together, but what happens when a chick comes out of their shell and the first thing they see is the barnyard dog? Instant bonding. Biologists call it "imprinting," and it can make for a very strong connection between a chick, duckling or gosling and their four-legged, non-feathered parent figure.

So don't be too surprised if you see some puffy and perky chicks trying their best to keep up with a dog as they wander around a farm. And, likewise, don't be surprised if you see that dog taking their parenting job very seriously, keeping a protective eye out for the chirping chicks in their care.

Dogs are amazing creatures that can raise a vastly different baby animal as their own, sense when their owner is pregnant, communicate through licks and yawns, and so much more. Whether they’re rolling around in smelly things or making us laugh with their silly doggie antics, dogs have a way of keeping us on our toes and also smiling from ear to ear — just another reason why owning a dog is so beneficial for us.

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