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Which Animals Make the Most Affectionate and Cuddly Pets?

Leonard is a former teacher and principal who has also been a writer for the past two decades. Writing and animals are his true loves.

If you're looking around for a new friendly companion to share your life with, read on to find out which animals are the most affectionate and loving.

If you're looking around for a new friendly companion to share your life with, read on to find out which animals are the most affectionate and loving.

We all know that owning a pet can have a number of significant benefits for people. Pet ownership has critical mental health advantages, such as relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. Likewise, there are many proven physical advantages as well, including lowering blood pressure, and even reducing the risk of having a heart attack. However, not all pets are created equal when it comes to helping their stressed-out owners. Some animals are naturally more affectionate than others.

According to Blair Justice, author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health, physical contact with our pets immediately releases a number of pain relievers in the body, including serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and prolactin. This considered, it comes as no great shock that humans typically prefer pets that love to be affectionate and cuddle. The question that instantly comes to mind then, is which pets are the most affectionate? Read along and you will discover some answers that might come as a surprise!

Which Animals Make the Most Loving and Affectionate Pets?

Here's a quick breakdown of the most friendly and affectionate animals that make great friends for your journey through life:

  1. Dogs
  2. Cats
  3. Pot-Bellied Pigs
  4. Rabbits
  5. Fancy Rats
  6. Guinea Pigs
  7. Horses
  8. Cockatoos
  9. Sugar Gliders
  10. Skunks

Read on to find more detailed descriptions of each animal and what makes them such great companions for cuddling and loving!

1. Dogs

Dogs are not called “Man’s Best Friend” by accident. Not only are they fiercely loyal, but dogs are also extremely affectionate. Quite similar to humans, dogs are social animals who want to bond, be accepted, and be loved. The tendency of dogs to lick their owners mercilessly is a prime example of showing affection. While this is occasionally due to trying to lick salt from the skin, it is more often than not an illustration of affection and love.

While it is true that some dogs are certainly more affectionate than others, the truth remains that this is primarily due to upbringing and the fault usually rests with the human owner. Even breeds considered to be overly aggressive, such as pitbulls or rottweilers, can turn into the most affectionate and cuddly softies if they're provided with a secure and loving home. From their endless licking to their tendency to basically tackle you with excitement every time you come home, there can be little doubt that dogs are one of the most affectionate pets.

Common ways for dogs to show affection

  • snuggling
  • hugging
  • tail-wagging
  • licking
  • barking
  • playing games
  • protecting you
  • jumping up into the air
  • leaning against you
  • following you around

2. Cats

Throughout time, cats have frequently been described as cold, disinterested, and aloof. This is actually a very unfair description of cats, as they are quite affectionate in reality. The distinction between dogs and cats is the fact that the latter show their affection much differently than the former. In most cases, cats have true loyalty and affection for their owners. There have been countless documented cases whereby cats have risked their lives to assist an owner who they perceived to be in danger.

In his book, Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, John Bradshaw backs up the claim that cats are just as loving and affectionate as dogs. He goes further to point out that cats have essentially received a “bad rap” mainly due to the fact that they show affection differently than a pet dog. Such actions as pointing their tail upright and rubbing up against owners are clear displays of affection, which are frequently misunderstood by human owners. Despite the stereotype of being cold and distant, cats are clearly affectionate pets.

Common ways for cats to show affection

  • snuggling
  • hugging
  • licking
  • kneading
  • purring
  • playing games
  • protecting you
  • rubbing up against you
  • following you around
  • sitting on your lap

3. Pot-Bellied Pigs

Another very affectionate animal that is frequently chosen as a pet is the pot-bellied pig. This is another animal that has a number of negative stereotypes associated with it. For instance, we have all heard the phrases “eat like a pig” or “sweat like a pig" or "filthy as a pig sty." The truth is, however, that pigs are very intelligent, sociable, and clean animals. (The main reason they often roll around in mud is because they lack sweat glands and are trying to cool off.)

Pot-bellied pigs are also exceptionally affectionate. They have an intense craving for companionship and respond very well to touch. They also love to play and should be given frequent access to open spaces to run around in, ideally with lots of shade for cooling down. In fact, they are quite curious and playful and can become easily bored if not provided with enough activities and stimuli. As such, it's a good idea to "pig-proof" your home just in case they become overly curious or destructive. But if you have the ability to provide them with a good home and lots of attention, pot-bellied pigs can easily turn into one of your dearest, most affectionate companions.

Common ways for pot-bellied pigs to show affection

  • snuggling
  • tail-wagging
  • licking
  • squealing
  • playing games
  • protecting you
  • rubbing their nose on you
  • following you around

4. Rabbits

The term “bunny rabbit” is synonymous with visions of cute, fluffy, and loving little creatures hopping and bouncing around from place to place. This perception is not too far away from the actual truth, as rabbits make for very interesting, entertaining, and affectionate pets. In fact, rabbits can be just as loyal and affectionate as dogs. They also have a wide range of personalities—from quiet and shy to outgoing and playful—to suit any kind of owner.

A very close bond can be established between a rabbit and their owner. It is important to remember, however, that while rabbits are affectionate, they specifically respond well to only certain types of handling. For example, they do not like being picked up and much prefer to be cuddled and petted while they are on the ground or in your lap. If the rabbit is not pleased with the handling tactic of its owner, a quick instinctive nip or scratch may follow. Thus, it is important to keep an eye on small children whenever they are interacting with a rabbit they do not know. Nevertheless, when treated right, the bunny rabbit is an exceptionally affectionate pet.

Common ways for rabbits to show affection

  • snuggling
  • licking
  • squealing
  • playing games
  • demanding head rubs
  • running around your feet
  • jumping up into the air
  • following you around

5. Fancy Rats

There can be little doubt about the fact that many people are deathly afraid of rats. This creature has the unenviable reputation of being creepy and vicious and has been associated with the images of unimaginable death during the era of the Black Plague. While it is true that the sewer systems are home to a multitude of rats, it is also correct that these are not what we are generally suggesting you try to keep as a new cuddly pet.

Fancy rats are not sewer animals at all and are actually quite clean and regular self-groomers. They are also very intelligent, loyal, and affectionate animals. Fancy rats are sociable animals with a high degree of empathy and playfulness and are very affectionate to their human owners. They often enjoy solving puzzles and even love to just hang out on their owners' shoulders. If they are treated well and appropriately, fancy rats can be a perfect pet.

Common ways for rats to show affection

  • snuggling
  • licking
  • squealing
  • playing games
  • following you around
  • sitting on your shoulder

6. Guinea Pigs

The fact that guinea pigs are affectionate with their owners is very special indeed. They are natural “prey rodents,” and as such, their natural instinct is to run and hide, not play and cuddle. However, consider the following quote by Niki Vettel in which she describes her affectionate relationship with her pet:

“Calling Ralphie affectionate is a ridiculous understatement. He loves to sit, half-napping on my shoulder, his back legs stretched out to their full four inches and his furry whiskered face nuzzled against my neck.

Once the important trust is created, guinea pigs will be incredibly loyal and affectionate pets with their human owners. They're such social creatures, in fact, that it's often best to own at least two guinea pigs at a time so that they always have someone to keep them company—lest they begin to feel lonesome and isolated.

Guinea pigs also tend to have easily discernible personalities and generally make their likes and dislikes quite apparent through different behaviors and sound. They also make great first pets for young children.

Common ways for guinea pigs to show affection

  • snuggling
  • licking
  • squealing
  • jumping up into the air
  • playing games
  • following you around
  • sitting on your shoulder

7. Horses

A horse is certainly not a pet to keep around the house! They require large spaces, stables, and a steadfast commitment from their owners. Not too many people have the ability or resources to keep a horse as a pet, and many would argue that horses are majestic animals who should never be considered as a pet in the first place. (I suppose we could actually make that argument for all animals, but that is a story for another day.) The fact of the matter is that horses are very affectionate animals who intensely enjoy the company of their human owners.

Horses are known for recognizing and often reflecting the emotions and behaviors of the humans around them. In fact, they are often exceptional at calming hard-to-reach children or recovering addicts, sometimes resulting in similarly calming effects for the horses themselves. They are breathtaking animals that will be very affectionate with owners who have taken the time to establish a proper and long-lasting bond.

Common ways for horses to show affection

  • snuggling
  • hugging
  • licking
  • nickering (purring)
  • playing games
  • leaning up against you
  • rubbing their nose on you

8. Cockatoos

When considering affectionate pets, birds do not come to mind very often. They are often seen as unintelligent and skittish—a pet that is not likely to display any degree of loyalty or affection. However, anyone who makes such an assertion has obviously not owned a cockatoo. This bird thrives on the contact, love, and affection that it receives from its owner.

They are widely known to be playful, affectionate, and cuddly pets that will develop a love and bond with their owner—especially if they do so at a young age (as older cockatoos often have a harder time bonding with new owners). They actually crave attention and affection so much that if it is not given regularly, the cockatoo will even begin to develop behavioral issues. They are also the perfect pet for anyone who plans to spend a lot of time with these animals sharing mutual affection. (Alternatively, it might also be a good idea to think about getting two at a time so that they always have someone to keep them company.) And since cockatoos can live anywhere from 40–80 years depending on the species, you can potentially end up with a lifelong friend.

Common ways for cockatoos to show affection

  • snuggling
  • kissing
  • demanding attention
  • following your movements
  • letting you handle them

9. Sugar Gliders

Sugar gliders are very small Australian possums whose normal habitats are up in the treetops. They have also not experienced the genetic process of domestication in the same way that cats and dogs have. Thus, there are many people who would argue that sugar gliders should simply not be kept as a pet. Nevertheless, these animals are extremely popular exotic pets, and their owners contend that if they are treated properly, they will thrive. In fact, they are frequently referred to as “pocket pets" who form an intense bond with their owners.

Loyalty, playfulness, and outright displays of affection are all part of the sugar glider pet profile. Just make sure they have lots of room to play in their cage and get some time out of it to glide around as well. This is also another pet that requires a lot of time and commitment from their handlers—especially during the initial bonding process. Ownership should not be entered into lightly. If given time, love, and affection, however, the sugar glider will respond in kind.

Common ways for sugar gliders to show affection

  • snuggling
  • licking
  • playing games
  • rubbing up against you
  • following you around

10. Skunks

The skunk is another animal that has a fairly poor reputation. This is due in large part to their powerful scent, which sends humans and other animals alike running in the opposite direction when skunks cross their paths. However, there are a growing number of people who are keeping skunks as pets. They claim that once the skunk is de-scented, they make for an exceptionally loyal, loving, and affectionate pet. This quote from skunk owner Travis Hamze illustrates this preceding point quite well:

“People always say skunks are like cats as pets. That always makes me laugh because it's never someone who’s had a skunk clearly. Skunk people know the truth of this quite well. Skunks are way more affectionate and way smarter!”

Skunks are also often friendly with children and commonly get along well with other animals like dogs and cats. Once again, if treated well, a skunk can make for a top-notch companion. Just make sure you don't leave them alone too often or for extended periods of time, as they can become lonely and agitated if left to themselves for too long.

Common ways for skunks to show affection

  • snuggling
  • licking
  • playing games
  • demanding attention
  • rubbing up against you

What Are Some Other Affectionate Animals?

Here are a few more animals that also display affection for their owners and could make similarly great pets:

  • Chinchillas: Though they may not have traditionally been the most popular choice for companion animals, chinchillas are actually on the rise among prospective pet owners. They have incredibly soft fur and love to cuddle. While they do admittedly require a good amount of time to clean and take care of, they can be a great, if unconventional, candidate for the spot of your newest loving friend.
  • Hamsters: Not terribly dissimilar to guinea pigs or rats, these rodents display vast ranges of personalities and often take to certain owners more than others. They also enjoy playing games and nuzzling up with their favorite humans.
  • Bearded Dragons: Though they may be reptiles, these gentle lizards can actually be surprisingly affectionate. They clearly recognize and respond to their owners and frequently communicate with other bearded dragons, as well as with humans. They even like to cuddle sometimes. Plus, they're a great alternative to furred or feathered pets, especially for people with animal allergies.

If you're looking for even more suggestions of less-common affectionate pets, check out this great PetHelpful article on 7 Cuddly and Affectionate Exotic Pets.

Are You Able to Be a Responsible, Loving Pet Owner?

Having a pet can be an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience. Pets provide love, affection, and companionship. Usually, all they really expect in return is the exact same thing. That is why it is so critically important that people conduct proper research before they consider pet ownership. Different types of animals have various needs, and people need to ensure that they are willing to meet those requirements and capable of doing so.

When considering exotic pets, it is also very important to examine local regulations and laws to ensure that it is legal to own a particular type of pet. If due diligence and care are taken, people can mutually enjoy the amazing world of pet ownership and enjoy the affection and companionship that comes with this great responsibility and privilege.

Works Cited

Here are the various sources and references I drew from for this article:

Books

  • Justice, Blair. (2000). Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health. Peak Press.
  • Milan, Cesar. (2007). Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding & Correcting Common Dog Problems. Three Rivers Press.
  • Bradshaw, John. (2013). Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. Basic Books.

Articles

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Comments

Stu on July 07, 2020:

You should remove cockatoo from the list, you are extremely misinformed

Natalie on March 05, 2020:

i really like this website it is a cool web

Sudeshna on September 20, 2019:

Cows can be very affectionate , calm and cuddly very much emotional intellectual ..

It very much depends on owner how they pet them from childhood .. it's always two way relationship with any animal . P.s no one can be dangerous than human animal

Ricardo on May 31, 2019:

All birds are very affectionate. Also the cat bit seems biased...

Halenna tarin on March 22, 2019:

I would like a nother pet that is like a ferret but not one it can cuddle and sleep and I can take it to school

Guinea pig lover on March 05, 2019:

I would suggest guinea pigs for affectionate pets and very sociable. You can leave them by themselves but would recommend you get two or more lest they get lonely.

Lux3 on February 10, 2019:

TThe writer seems quite ignorant about parrots, both in terms of hands on experience as well as the growing amount of research on their behavior.

They are not at all easy to have as pets--think a chimp or monkey with feathers. Yes, they can often be cuddly but can also be highly demanding, intensely jealous and destructive. Even with the tamest ones, even with the smaller ones (conures), the demand social interaction (and love) is perhaps more than any other animal here. Oh, and they are messy eaters and destructive for the fun of it.

As someone once wrote, they make wonderfully engaging pets if you don't mind having a 3-year old running around the house with a pair of scissors for a mouth. (I should add that I have two birds and they are loves of my life...but still...)

Lorraine on February 05, 2019:

Can you please send me the article on getting rid of and preventing red tear staining on pets chin, paws and around and under eyes? Thanks

Annie leblanc on July 25, 2018:

I love pets I have three but want more!!

John on July 05, 2018:

Some fantastic insights for pet lovers.

Burb on July 04, 2018:

Cockatoos are affectionate but incredibly difficult pets to keep. They are loud, needy, demanding, destructive, and moody. Toos are best for owners without children or many other pets, and whom are home almost all the time. They are easy to fall in love with, and also the most frequent type of bird seen in shelters.

Domestic birds are social animals and incredibly affectionate in general. They are also one of the most intelligent species and always want to be near you. But they also require their owners changing their lifestyles significantly... Imagine a toddler that never matures for 100 years and will die if you use nonstick (teflon) pans or bleach in another room. Birds!

I'd recommend, if you're interested in a bird, adopting a pair of pigeons or doves. These are beautiful, cuddly birds, while not as intelligent as parrots, also are less likely to bite and don't scream. They can still be complicated animals to keep, so always do your research.

Green cheek conures are also very loving and, like cockatiels, are not a "one person" bird. Mine loves giving kisses! But they also are nippy and can bite haaaard, especially during molting and mating season.

Daniel on April 05, 2018:

You're right about rats. One was left with me and I looked after her not knowing much orcexpecting anything really. After a while I suddenly realised I had fallen in love become totally attached to and bonded with her. When she died I bawled my eyes out. Now I have four of them at once. Every rat is an individual, they have big personalities. I just wish they could live longer.

MissCapri on March 26, 2018:

You are right about cats - and rabbits, IMO, they may be just as affectionate as dogs, and readily show pleasure when a human is being affectionate. My sister had a cat when I was growing up. I loved that thing and was probably the one person who helped her grow from a cute cuddly kitten into a seriously lovey-dovey cat. She even came when called. And her favourite thing was to sit in my lap or lie on me when I sprawled out in a bed or on the floor. I've had rabbits, and nothing but great experiences with them for affection. You can even see it in their eyes when they're enjoying being stroked. My rabbit purrs when she gets stroked, or nuzzled by me about her head. And - rabbits are great lickers!

SunnSpott on December 22, 2017:

I'd choose an adult, indoor, all-the-time feline. My experience has been that most adoptees are happy to stay inside! We have an adopted, middle aged cat, right now. The trouble for me is that my husband is Kitty Jake's "chosen one." I don't get the pet affection I was hoping for, and, for a multitude of good reasons, my husband doesn't want any more animals, so, I adopted an endangered species of tree (A Cedar of Lebanon -- Cedrus Ilbani)! I love it. It grows nicely. We have play dates with other house plants (It won't go outside until spring.) and the Furbee I bought a few Christmasses ago. Jake follows us around. He's quite curious about the whole thing. I cuddle with the Furbee. Odd, maybe, but it satisfies my "need."

your name on November 02, 2017:

i am trying to look for an easy to look after pet which will show love towards me as my cat just died after being hit by a car. i can't have another cat as it may happen again and i can't have a dog as i do not have that much time for it

Kouki on September 08, 2017:

I don't recommend parrots/cockatoo for a family/multiple people, because they tend to choose just one person that they drown their affection in, while being hostile/cold towards everyone else. There's also no guarantee that the bird will like you as the owner. The cockatoo my parents got only likes my dad and brother, only letting them pet and hold her properly. If my mom or I try to touch her, she's very skittish and likely to bite unless you're super careful (she likes being massaged on the back of the neck by anyone, but you must approach carefully). Only my dad and brother are able to approach her carefree, and pet her beak without getting bitten.

GalaxyRat on April 29, 2017:

Thanks so much for including rats! I needed to see that

Leonard Tillerman (author) from Toronto, Canada on February 27, 2017:

Thanks for the comment. :) Dogs can make life complete. I cannot picture things without mine.

simplehappylife on February 27, 2017:

I think dogs are the most affectionate as well :) I have 3, Thomas (my 80lb hammy pit), Phil (my 5lb chiweenie), and Sam (my 7lb chihuahua). They are all incredibly sweet and bring so much daily joy to our lives, I can't imagine not having them here. They are just as much a part of our little family as we are.

Thomas is funny. Every time I have something new (wearing new pants, a new purse, or what-have-you), he comes over, smells it for a second, then gives whatever it is one big lick. As if to say, "nice, I approve" :)

Nice article Leonard :) I enjoyed it :)

RTalloni on February 20, 2017:

A neat list of pets! Sugar gliders are a new-to-me animal. I find it interesting to "pet watch" as opposed to "people watch"– not all dogs, or cats, or ? are the same so finding a pet that likes you, no matter what it is, is key to successfully enjoying the ownership.

Leonard Tillerman (author) from Toronto, Canada on February 17, 2017:

Thanks For the comment. At lot can be said for just plain treating pets properly and with love. Affection will follow.

Pam McInnes from Ontario Canada on February 17, 2017:

I have two dogs, two cats, two chinchillas, and up until a year ago I had two rabbits (Motley my mini-velveteen passed away first at 10-years-old; a year later her life-mate and mini lop Christian, joined her).

I can honestly say that I don't think any one of my beloved family members are any more affectionate than the other - they just show their affections differently. It is up to us to respect their different personalities and appreciate all they have to offer :)

Leonard Tillerman (author) from Toronto, Canada on February 17, 2017:

Hi

Thank you for the reply. :)

I know I wrote the article and should not play favorites...but dogs are my fave.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 17, 2017:

Omg, the sugar glider's eyes are too cute. Yes, dogs are lovely to have. I've got a dog and love him very much. He's always licking.