People around the world love the idea of hybrid animals and even though I think the domestic housecat is amazing all on their own I can’t help be at least a little curious about domestic and wild cat hybrids.
What makes this such an amazing subject is that hybrids really are possible!
While we aren’t going to see a dog and cat mate anytime soon, you’ve probably heard of hybrids like ligers, wolf-dogs, and even the world famous mule is a hybrid animal.
But what about cats and bobcats? Can these two species mate and if so how can you tell if your cat is mixed with a bobcat?
While there are feline hybrids amongst other species, there’s currently no genetically proven hybrid offspring between a cat and a bobcat- so it’s unlikely to be possible. If such a hybrid were to exist, we could expect a bobcat/housecat hybrid to be larger, have an unusual tail, and potentially have a unique coat pattern.
I know, that might be a bit disappointing to hear but let’s take a closer look at the world bobcat and domestic cat hybrids.
How Can You Identify A Hybrid Species?
Honestly, it’s not easy.
The genetics of hybrid species are complicated enough that it’s not just a pure blend of both parent species. That means there’s no standard for what a coydog (coyote and dog) looks like or what a bobcat and domestic cat would look like.
Even more amazing is that even in species that can produce hybrids, the offspring will be different depending on which species is the dad and which is the mom. In other words, there’s a big difference between a liger with a tiger dad and a liger with a tiger mom!
When it comes to a potential bobcat and housecat hybrid, that means we should expect quite a bit of potential variation if the mating were to successfully produce offspring.
But without a clear visual indicator for hybrids, how can we tell if any species is hybrid?
It comes down to genetics.
Hybrid species have genetic markers from both parents and for common hybrids like wolf and dog mixes, there are well-established and widely available tests.
But when it comes to bobcat and house cat hybrids it gets a little tougher to figure out.
Genetic Identification of Bobcat and Domestic Cat Hybrids
Wolf and canine hybrids have been studied extensively and as a result, the genetic testing for these animals is well established.
However, that’s not the case when it comes to bobcat and domestic cat hybrids, and researchers have noted that “Commercial microsatellite arrays and DNA barcoding have not been developed for identification of bobcat/domestic cat hybrids.”
That may not seem like a big deal, but the need to identify potential bobcat hybrids comes up more than you’d think! We’ll look at a few example below.
Is It Legal To Own A Bobcat/Domestic Cat Hybrid?
Whether a cat is really a hybrid has a huge legal impact. While it can vary by state, most local laws allow for a hybrid animal to be kept as a pet and that includes a potential bobcat and domestic cat hybrid.
However, most states (with some notable exceptions) don’t allow for a bobcat to be kept as a pet.
What About Rocky The Bobcat Hybrid?
One of the most famous cases of a potentially hybrid bobcat is Rocky the (Maybe) Bobcat.
Rocky’s owner claimed that Rocky was a hybrid which meant he was allowed to live with her. The state thought differently though but it was on them to prove that Rocky was (or was not) a bobcat and domestic cat hybrid.
In the end, that wasn’t possible.
The only DNA test available was mitochondrial DNA testing which revealed that Rocky’s mom was 100% pure bobcat.
As far as his dad…it couldn’t be proven either way. That meant Rocky got to stay with his home!
Honestly, this seems like quite the legal loophole, especially for potential bobcat hybrids, since it’s so difficult to genetically identify a bobcat hybrid. Because Rocky’s owner truly believes that he’s a hybrid and the state couldn’t prove otherwise, Rocky got to stay!
A Colorado Bobcat Hybrid Case
A similar case occurred in Colorado where a resident was found to be keeping a potential bobcat hybrid. Once again, the state didn’t think that the animal was a hybrid but they were required to prove it before taking any legal action.
However, Colorado authorities didn’t look at the mitochondrial DNA. Instead, they took a more creative approach and looked for the presence of FELV-related DNA which is present in all house cats.
If you’re at all familiar with the veterinary world, you’ve probably heard of FELV which is a disease that affects the domestic feline. The DNA related to this disease isn’t found in bobcats and it wasn’t found in the Colorado cat either which meant the cat was considered a bobcat.
Now, I’m not a DNA expert but I’m not sure this is a perfect test. After all, there’s a lot of variables when it comes to hybrid genetics and it feels like a big leap to assume that a bobcat hybrid would have to have this DNA.
Again, I’m not a professional researcher or scientist here but it does go to show the complexity of hybrid identification!
What About The Pixie-Bob Breed?
Then there’s the pixie-bob breed that really perpetuates the idea of a bobcat and domestic cat hybrid. One look at this adorable cat and you can easily see why so many people have connected this breed to bobcats:
There are a lot of stories about this breed and even the folks at Cat Time write that, “The Pixie-Bob breed is thought to have started from the unplanned litter of a bobcat and a barn cat in 1985. The barn cat belonged to Carol Ann Brewer, and she named a female kitten Pixie. Pixie became the foundation mother for this breed. While there is no hard proof that Pixie’s father was actually a wildcat, it is widely believed and accepted by breeders.”
However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the bobcat heritage is wildly accepted by breeders. Organizations like The International Cat Association doesn’t claim that this adorable breed truly has a bobcat history.
Additionally, other publications like Catster explain, “Tales behind the founding of the Pixiebob purporting that he’s the result of matings between wild bobcats and farmhouse mousers are just that: tales. DNA tests show no sign of wild cat ancestry.”
While we may not ever know everything about the origins of these unique-looking felines, it shouldn’t be surprising that someone would want to create a domestic cat that looks like a bobcat. And when it comes to the pixie-bob, breeders have done a great job doing exactly that!
Can Bobcats and House Cats Mate?
Bobcats and domestic cats may mate with each other from time to time but they won’t produce offspring. They simply differ too much genetically to reproduce.
That being said, the two species are similar enough in both size and mating habits that it’s likely they’ll occasionally try to mate. If you’ve ever seen a female cat in heat, that should be no surprise since a female cat that’s ready to mate will make advances towards just about any other animal.
So even if you see a bobcat and domestic cat mating doesn’t mean a litter will be produced.
When you consider that a cat in heat is willing to take on multiple mates, you can see how this could be more confusing. Someone may see a female domestic cat mate with a bobcat but not see that same cat mate with several other male domestic cats. When the litter is born, it’s easy to associate those cats with the bobcat despite several feline partners!
How Can You Tell The Difference Between A Regular Kitten And A Bobcat Kitten?
Mix-ups between domestic kittens and wild bobcats happen a lot more than you might think! While there are some clear distinctions, the younger the kitten the harder it can be to tell the difference.
Just check out this short news story of a family that didn’t realize their new kitten was a bobcat…until they heard his not so little meow!
So how can you tell the difference before your kitten starts to grow into a bobcat?
Let’s take look at a few of the key things to look for:
The tail is a great place to start and bobcats will always have a short tail. Like a domestic cat, the exact number of bones in a bobcat’s tail can vary but you should expect to find three to four distinct vertebrae.
Manx cats usually have much shorter tails or no almost no tail at all. However, tail length alone isn’t enough to make a bobcat and plenty of domestic felines will have a similarly short tail length.
That means you also want to look at the distinct coat pattern on the tail. You can see it in the image below but a bobcat’s tail will have a black spot on the top and white on the bottom of the tail. This isn’t a pattern you’d expect to see on a regular house cat and combined with tail length can give you a good idea if a kitten is a bobcat.
Bobcat kittens have spots, a pattern that’s very rare in your typical house cat. While some tabby cats can almost look like they have spots, a closer look will show that these aren’t spots but a lighter version of the typical tabby pattern.
Size, Age, and Teeth
If you’re still not sure, then it’s time to turn to the teeth to try and determine the kitten’s age and then compare that to their weight. Bobcat kittens will be larger than a typical kitten, assuming you’re not dealing with the runt of the litter.
When it comes to age, kittens usually gain one pound per month up to 6 months of age. To age a kitten, you can compare their teeth to this chart.
While I wouldn’t suggest looking at weight alone if you have a kitten that appears to be one month old but weighs significantly more than one pound, that could be the final indicator (along with the coat and tail) that you’ve got a bobcat kitten.
But make sure it’s combined with other bobcat features and not just weight and age alone.
What About The Ears?
The adorable and trademark tufted ears aren’t a good indicator since kittens may not have developed their tufts quite yet. That makes this a poor indicator of determining whether a kitten is a domestic cat or a bobcat.
Putting It Altogether
Check out these adorable bobcat kittens below and you’ll see everything we’ve discussed.
Look closely and you can see the black spot on the top side of the tail along with white fur underneath. The tail length also matches what we’d expect to see in a bobcat.
They don’t have tufted ears (yet) but they do have plenty of spots that are quite different from what you’d see in a house cat. We can’t determine the age of these baby bobcats but at this point, we have enough to say these sure don’t look like your regular kitten!
But if you’re still not sure, it’s always a good idea to contact your local wildlife rescue so they can help you confirm! The younger a bobcat kitten can enter a wildlife rehabilitation, the better!
What Would A Bobcat and Housecat Hybrid Look Like?
Okay, even though we’ve established that the bobcat and housecat aren’t able to reproduce, it’s still fun to consider what a hybrid might look like.
Keep in mind, I’m not a geneticist and this isn’t meant to be high-level academic work- just a little fun imaging what a hybrid might look like.
To start with, we would expect a bobcat and house cat hybrid to be larger than a typical house cat and potentially larger than even a bobcat. This is based on the concept of heterosis which is applicable to both plants and animals.
Simply put, heterosis often results in offspring that’s superior to the individual parents. It doesn’t always work this way but it’s nature’s way of taking the best of both worlds. According to one academic paper both the mule and liger (each a type of hybrid) “are larger and, by some measures, more vigorous than the parents.”
The typical house cat weighs around 8 pounds and the bobcat weighs closer to 19 pounds but based on the concept of heterosis we would expect the hybrid potentially be larger than even the bobcat. When you consider a bigger cat like a Maine Coon that can weigh 18 pounds on average and it’s possible to imagine a very large hybrid!
The bobcat has an adorable, short half tail. It’s actually a little longer than the pixie-bob look alike. When it comes to a potential hybrid, tail length could go either way. Scientists have found that in other short-tailed cats, there seems to be more than one gene that dictates the tail length.
Bobcats are well known for their tufted ears and as with the tail, it could go either way with a hypothetical hybrid. Maine coon cats have similar and sometimes even more elaborate tufted ears so it’s easy to imagine some very fancy ears on a hybrid!
While bobcats have many spots that the typical cat doesn’t have, they also look quite similar to your standard tabby cat. As a result, a potential hybrid would likely have a tabby coat instead of anything too exotic.
Putting It All Together
So what would this hybrid look like?
It’s impossible to say for sure, but we’d be looking for a big cat that looks like a very large Maine Coon but with a short tail! Cute!
If It Was Possible, There Would Probably Be More Hybrids
I know it’s disappointing to find out that there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea of a bobcat and house cat hybrid.
Part of what makes this idea so popular is that it just seems so very possible.
After all, bobcats often weigh around 19 pounds, and even though that’s much bigger than your average house cat it’s still pretty easy to see how these two species could mate. Heck, it seems a lot more plausible than a great dane and chihuahua breeding and they’re the same species!
However, if the bobcat and housecat hybrid was possible we would expect to see a lot more of these hybrids running around. With so many cats in the world, plenty of bobcats to go around, and a similar size between the two species if this mix were possible it would likely be pretty prominent.
So the fact that this pairing seems so possible actually supports the idea that it’s not!
That’s it- everything you need to know about bobcat and housecat hybrids!
While the pairing isn’t possible, at least based on our current scientific evidence, it’s still fun to think about. Even though your cat may have some bobcat-like qualities, they’re probably just an interesting-looking domestic feline.
But that doesn’t make them any less amazing!
What do you think?