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House Cats and Bobcats…What Are The Differences?

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As cat lovers, it’s hard not to be interested in bobcats. Sure, we know that they’re wild animals but in many ways, they look very similar to our own house cats.

However, looks can certainly be deceiving and there are many differences between your everyday domestic cat and a wild bobcat.

But what are the main differences between house cats and bobcats?

The biggest differences between bobcats and domestic cats are size and coat pattern. Bobcats can weigh between 14 and 40 pounds so while some will be similarly sized to a big house cat, most will be much larger. Additionally, bobcats have a distinct spotted coat pattern that’s not found in the domestic house cat. 

There are many more differences beyond size and coat pattern but those are easiest to spot from a safe distance.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the domestic house cat and bobcats with everything you need to know about these two species.

Physical Differences Between Bobcats and House Cats

When it comes to quick identification from a distance, which is always a good choice when you could be dealing with a wild feline, you’ll want to focus on the physical differences.

We’ll go in-depth on each aspect but this chart should help you decide pretty quickly.

 House CatBobcat
SizeBetween 9 to 10 inches tallBetween 16 and 18 inches tall
Limb LengthStandard house cat limbsLegs around 30% longer than
the typical house cat
Tail LengthVaries but usually 12 inchesBetween 4 and 8 inches long
Tail ColorVaries but usually the same color
as the cat
Always black on top with a distinct
white spot underneath
Coat ColorVaries but only rare breeds have
Always spotted
Cheek RuffsIntact males may have thick cheeks
but never ruffs
Cheek ruffs that look like a man with
mutton chops

Now, let’s break down each of these categories but know that you’ll need to look at more than just one category to decide if a cat is or isn’t a bobcat. That’s because some breeds of house cats may have individual bobcat features but it’s a collection of features that will help you make the distinction.

For example, cats like the Pixiebob or Manx breeds may have a similarly short tail like a bobcat and Maine Coons may be of comparable size but only a bobcat will have all the features.

Keep that in mind as you review each individual feline feature.

How Big Is A Bobcat Compared To A House Cat?

Part of the reason that bobcats and house cats can so frequently be confused with each other is that bobcats may not be as big as you might think- at least at first.

Bobcats have a huge range in terms of weight and males can weigh between 14 and 40 pounds. Bobcats that fall on the high end of that range will be easy to distinguish from the regular house cat but when you consider that Maine Coons can easily weigh 18 pounds you can see how there could be a lot of overlap between the two species!

Female bobcats are even smaller with an average weight of just 15 pounds. We’ve all seen 15-pound house cats and while they may not have had the lean muscle of a female bobcat, the size could be similar at a quick glance.

But the big difference in size isn’t about weight and instead height and length.

A bobcat is around 15 inches tall, which is about twice the size of domesticated cats.

Length is another major area of difference and the average bobcat is almost twice as long as your typical cat. Bobcats have an average length of around 37 inches (their tail is excluded from that measurement) and a house cat has an average length of 18 inches (also with tail excluded).

So while a fat house cat may be able to compete in average weight, there will be a big difference when it comes to length and height.

Still, as you can see from the chart below, some Maine Coons can come in comparable sizes so height, weight, and length alone aren’t enough in some cases so let’s look at the next major difference between the wild bobcat and the domestic house cat.

And if you want to see a visual breakdown of everything we just covered, check out these two charts that compare the size of each gender of Maine Coons, Bengals, house cats, and of course bobcats.

Male Bobcat, House Cat, Bengal, and Maine Coon Size Comparison

MeasurementHouse CatMaine CoonBengalBobcat
Weight10 lbs15.5 lbs12.5 lbs21 lbs
Height10 in13 in14.5 in16 in
(Excluding Tail)
18 in24.5 in16 in38.5 in

Female Bobcat, House Cat, Bengal and Maine Coon Size Comparison

MeasurementHouse CatMaine CoonBengalBobcat
Weight8.9 lbs9.9 lbs9 lbs15 lbs
Height9 in11.5 in13.5 in15 in
(Excluding Tail)
16 in23.5 in15 in36.5 in

Bobcats Have Spotted Coats and (Most) House Cats Don’t

An adult bobcat has a very distinct spotted coat that helps them blend into their environment and even though spots are somewhat common in the world of big cats they’re quite uncommon in the world of the domestic cat.

Brown tabby cats may look like they have spots but if look close enough these are really just the classic tabby stripes. Additionally, because the big Maine Coon can have the tabby coat pattern it’s easy to see how confusion could arise.

But your average house cat won’t have spots.

The important qualification there is average and there are several specific breeds of cats that do have spots. They include Bengals, Savanah Cats, Egyptian Maus, Ocicats, and the Pixiebot which was specifically bred to look like a bobcat.

Some of these breeds, like the Bengal or Savanah Cat, may even have an overall comparable size to a bobcat (as you can see in the chart above). However, because any of these breeds can cost several thousand dollars, you’re unlikely to see them running around the brush in your backyard.

Bobcats Have A Short Tail

Bobcats get their name from distinct, short, and “bobbed” tails that give them their trademark look.

Just as it can with a domestic cat, the exact number of vertebrae in the bobcat’s tail can vary but it’s usually around 6 inches (15.25 cm) in length with around 3-4 vertebrae.

That’s about half as long as the typical house cat’s 12-inch tail and much longer than a Manx cat’s stumpy 1-inch tail.

That makes the bobcat’s tail one of the more distinguishing features but as we’ve already seen with other features that doesn’t make it a surefire solution for identifying bobcats. Because of the hodgepodge of breeding that happens in cats of the world, there are plenty of domestic cats with tails that are only 6 inches in length.

Bobcats Have A Distinctly Colored Tail

Not only do bobcats have a short tail that’s easy to spot, but every bobcat tail is colored in a very specific way with dark black on top and distinct white on the bottom.

The little bobcat in the video below does a great job showing off their uniquely colored tail and gives you a good idea of how you could spot this pattern from a distance. Notice how the bobcat often holds their tail up making it easy to spot the white:

House cats, on the other hand, will be very unlikely to ever have this two-tone color pattern on their tail. While it would be possible for a black and white cat to have this pattern, you wouldn’t need to worry about confusing a handsome tuxedo cat with a bobcat.

But when it comes to tabby-colored felines with short tails, like the pixie bob, you’re not going to find this color pattern. If the bobcat is unaware that you’re watching or is unconcerned, like in the video above,  you’ll have an easy time spotting the white spot as it’s quite distinct from the rest of the bobcat and their typical environment.

Not only can this bobcat characteristic be useful from a distance but it’s even better up close when you need to figure out if a kitten is a regular kitten or a young bobcat.

Bobcats Have Ear Tufts…But They’re Smaller Than You Think

Bobcats do have ear tufts but they may be more subtle than you think. In fact, some Maine Coons have bigger ear tufts than a bobcat.

The real king of ear tufts are lynxes and while the bobcat is in the lynx genus, which means they’re in the same family, they don’t have quite the same ear tufts as their eastern cousins. You can really get a feel for the difference in ear tufts in the video below which shows several bobcat cousins and just how large their ear tufts are (you’ll also get another look at the white spot under the tail):

So ear tufts alone aren’t enough to make the distinction between a bobcat and a housecat. Not only will the ear tufts on a bobcat be hard to see from distance, but there are also plenty of house cats (especially the Maine Coon) that have large ear tufts.

Limb Length

Bobcats will have longer limbs than the typical house cat and while this difference can be a bit more subtle it’s worth mentioning. Especially since the long, lean limbs of a bobcat are a big contrast to the stocky build of a Maine Coon.

So while those two felines could have similar weights, their proportions will be very different. While there is plenty of detailed analysis on the comparative limb length of the house cat and bobcat, understanding the precise measurements aren’t as important as looking for long, lean limbs on a bobcat.

Bobcats Have Mutton Chops

Okay, that may not be a scientific term but it does perfectly describe the look of a bobcat’s face. Again, the bobcat may not have the same level of facial fluff as their lynx cousins but it’s still way more than your typical house cat.

This bobcat feature is more officially called ruffs and these run alongside either side of the face under the ear. You may not be able to spot them clearly from a distance but they will make a bobcat’s head seem larger and wider from any distance.

So even if you can’t clearly spot the ruffs, you should be able to tell that a bobcat has a wider head than most house cats. The exception here is male cats that haven’t been neutered which are commonly called toms.  When male cats reach sexual maturity, their cheeks will become larger…much larger. These big cheeks help protect their face but they can also almost look like a bobcat’s mutton chops from a distance.

Bobcat Vs House Cat Tracks

So far we’ve been working off the assumption that you can see the bobcat right in front of you.

But what if all you’ve got are tracks? How can you tell the difference between a bobcat and house cat tracks?

Bobcat tracks look very similar to that of a house cat but the biggest difference is size. A bobcat’s tracks will be between 2 inches and 2.5 inches wide compared to a house cat’s roughly 1-inch wide track. A bobcat’s longer gait will also mean paw prints are further apart compared to a house cat. 

Both felines use a gait called direct register which means that “as the front foot is lifted up the rear foot on that side drops directly into the front track.” This is quite the elegant way of walking but also means that you won’t see a difference in the frequency of tracks between bobcats and house cats.

Distribution Differences Between Bobcats and Housecats

Bobcats are found across North America with regular sightings in southern Canada along with all southern parts of the United States and several parts of Mexico. But if you’re anywhere in Europe or the farther reaches of Canada, it’s unlikely that you’re spotting a bobcat.

House cats, on the other hand, have spread across every continent in the world (excluding Antarctica).

So if you’re in North America, you’ll have to pay close attention to the physical differences that you’re seeing but if you’re living anywhere else…you probably spotted a house cat!

Do Bobcats and House Cats Have Similar Hunting Behaviors?

Yes! Bobcats and house cats are both ambush predators that are willing to adjust their territory based on the availability of food. Both species are also happy to hunt and eat a wide range of species from small mammals like mice and rats to more unusual prey like snakes and lizards.

That helps explain the wide distribution of both species, even though help from humans has lead house cats to pretty much take over the planet.

Both types of felines are territory-focused and in the wild, both the domestic cat and bobcat will control large areas of land.

Of course, even with similar behaviors, the physical differences between the two cats change a lot. For example, according to statistics from the US Department of Agriculture bobcats killed 11,000 sheep across the country.

House cats are certainly good hunters and have made a huge impact on the bird population but they aren’t going to be taking down sheep any time soon!

Will Bobcats Attack House Cats?

Unfortunately, bobcats will attack house cats if they’re given the chance. Bobcats are opportunistic hunters and will adjust their food sources based on what’s available to them. As humans continue to spread, the lines between urban and wilderness are blurred. That means house cats, small dogs, and other pets can become a food source for wild bobcats.

Despite the fact that both species are felines, that won’t matter much to a hungry bobcat. Never let a domestic cat meet a bobcat and assume that as cats they’ll get along- especially if your cat is smaller than most.

Can Bobcats and House Cats Mate?

While it might seem like this should be possible, house cats and bobcats are unable to produce offspring. Despite both being feline, the species are genetically too different to reproduce.

Most bobcat and house cat encounters are more likely to end in conflict rather than romance.

Can Bobcats Meow Like House Cats?

Bobcats can make many of the same sounds that our house cats do! That includes sounds like chirping, trilling, hissing, chuffing, and more.

But what about the classic feline meow? Do bobcats meow like house cats?

Bobcats can meow like house cats but unlike our house cats, they’re not meowing for humans. Instead, bobcat mothers will meow to find their kittens and kittens will often make the same noise in response. This type of bobcat meow is usually higher-pitched and shorter sounding than the classic house cat meow.

You can see a great example of the bobcat meow in this video:

Interestingly, most feline species can meow at least a little bit- except for the mighty lion!

Closing Thoughts

While bobcats and house cats may have similar hunting habits and territorial instincts, there’s a big difference between the two species.

Obviously, bobcats are wild animals and have behavior to match! But beyond that, there are huge differences in the physical characteristics of a bobcat vs a house cat.

Sure, some house cats like the Maine Coon or Pixie Bob may have similar characteristics to a bobcat but only a bobcat will have the distinct combination of size, a short tail with a distinct pattern, and a spotted coat that’s very much unlike the typical house cat.

What do you think? Do you think you could spot the difference between a house cat and a bobcat now?

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