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The Case of the Hybrid Cats

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

The term hybrid can be a loaded one at times, often being misattributed to mixes that are not hybrids. In this post we'll discuss the term itself, as well as examples of true hybrids in felines!

A hybrid is the offspring resulting from reproduction between two different species. This can only be done with two species that are situated closely together on the evolutionary tree. This is why we are able to hybridize a Canary and a Goldfinch (these exist in the pet trade and are often referred to as mules because they are typically incapable of reproduction), but not a Canary and a Crow.

From left to right; Yellow Canary, European Goldfinch, Canary-Euro-Goldfinch hybrid or "Mule"

Hybrids in the cat world are increasingly common and they usually command a high price. Typically, what you'll get is a mix between a domestic breed of cat and a wild cat. Before we get into the hybrids themselves, it might help to briefly discuss some of the wild parents of these hybrids.

The Serval (Leptailurus serval) is a medium-size wild cat from Africa. They are large compared to the domestic feline, and they tend to be a handful around the house. These are available in the American pet trade, and many areas do not require a buyer to hold a permit for ownership. But beware; these aren't just oversized Domestic Shorthairs. These agile hunters will only fit into a narrow variety of families, and if not taken care of properly and with the appropriate precautions they can be dangerous to both their owners and other animals in the home.

Aquila, a pet Serval

Servals are intensely active, running like the wind, climbing everything, destroying furniture, playing in any body of water they can find (toilets, fish aquariums, etc.) and killing any small animal they can get near (and compared to them, chihuahuas and kittens are very small animals). They require specialized diets, and should be given large amounts of raw foods. They also need mental stimulation that can only be provided by utilizing live prey (live fish, live birds, etc) which is something most people wouldn't be comfortable doing. Another potential issues for would-be owners; you'll need to find a vet that sees large exotics, because most veterinarians will refuse to see them.

The Asian Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small wild cat that is native to South, Southeast, and East Asia. It is the most widespread of all small Asian felids.

The Asian Leopard Cat is about the size of a domestic cat, but has longer legs. It weighs 6-15 pounds and reaches lengths of 35-38 inches. Coloration ranges from pale tawny, to yellow, red or grey above, with the underparts white, and spotted.

Asian Leopard Cat

Asian Leopard Cats are agile hunters of small prey and have an extremely strong prey drive. They largely feed on rodents, birds, and reptiles. When hybridized, they often pass along this intense prey drive, so their hybrids are therefore sometimes not compatible with homes containing animals that might be viewed as prey.

The Jungle Cat (Felis chaus) is a medium-sized cat that lives in wetlands in the Middle East, the Caucasus, South and Southeast Asia, and southern China. It's also known as the Reed Cat, Swamp Cat, and Jungle Lynx. They primarily hunt fish, birds, rodents, and reptiles, but will eat anything they can easily kill - cannibalism has been observed.

The Jungle Cat

Jungle cats are the most common small cats in India. They're solitary except during mating season and when mother-kitten families are together. Adults maintain territories by urine spraying and scent marking. They can be fiercely territorial and aggressive. Consider this when looking into a hybrid that contains their genes.

The Bobcat (Lynx rufus), named for the distinctive stumped tail, is a medium-sized wild cat which is native to North America. They are also known as the Red Lynx. Bobcats are found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They are accomplished hunters, and are generally very elusive. Even in areas where they are common, they are rarely spotted.

The Bobcat

Bobcats are often extremely fearful when compared to other wild cats, and are considered an even greater risk than most other species when they are startled or feel cornered. Despite their modest size (up to 36 lbs) they are capable of taking down large prey, and have been known to take down goats, deer, and dogs. Their primary diet consists of rabbits and squirrels.

The Hybrids

When considering a hybrid, it is very important to consider what the kitten may be inheriting from it's parents. The temperaments of hybrids are sometimes unpredictable, and many of their deeply-ingrained behaviors may prove to be undesirable in the home. Some hybrids, for example, have a reputation for spraying urine regardless of being neutered/spayed due to the immense territorial instincts of the wild parent species. Some of these behaviors simply cannot be trained out of the animal, and if you are unable or unwilling to accept the hybrid for the way it is then you may want to opt for a more traditional domestic breed. But with that said, lets cover a few of the genetic combinations!

The Chausie

Chausies (pictured above) are a cross between Jungle Cats and a Domestic Shorthair. They are playful cats that enjoy the company of other cats, dogs, and people and are very social. Chausies are built for running and jumping and also often resemble Abyssinian Cats. Occasionally, territorial aggression can become a progressive problem in the home.

The Savannah

Taller than the more popular Bengal cat, Savannah Cats are also spotted hybrids that have grown famous for their coat pattern and their more wild personalities. They are a cross between a Serval and a Domestic Shorthair and are the largest type of recognized and registered pet cat breed in the world. Some states and cities have laws against owning Savannah cats, especially earlier generations of them, but most recognize them as domesticated pets. They are often intolerant of any corrective training, are known for being rather pugnacious.

The Bengal

Bengal Cats are a hybrid cat breed that has combined the Asian leopard cat with various domestic cats, especially the Egyptian mau. These cats are known for their wild-looking spots and marbling, but they also often like water and have very dog-like personalities. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, progressive retinal atrophy, and pyruvate kinase deficiency are three diseases that Bengal cats may be predisposed to developing. They are roughly the size of a Domestic Shorthair, and are closer in temperament to a Domestic Shorthair than most other hybrid cats. They are by far the most readily available hybrid cats in the American pet trade today.

The Serengeti

Unlike the other hybrids we've covered here, the Serengeti Cat is a cross between two domesticated cat breeds: the Bengal and Oriental shorthair. They have slimmer features than their Bengal counterparts but maintain the exotic, spotted coat; the ultimate goal of this breed is to look like a Serval without using wild cats to breed. They are very active and agile and maintain the vocal attributes of their Oriental shorthair ancestors. Ultimately, they have a low percentage of Asian Leopard Cat genes in them, averaging 5-20%, but are still considered hybrids by most enthusiasts and feline experts.

Closing Considerations

While it may be tempting to jump aboard the hybrid cat train and get a hybrid kitten, we strongly recommend doing extensive research to make sure it is the right choice for you. Any animal is a big commitment, and entering into the acquisition of a hybrid cat is no small decision. Be sure you and other members of your household are willing and able to accommodate the more wild-like eccentricities that may accompany your new hybrid, and plan ahead for potential bumps in the road as the cat matures. Do massive amounts of research on the breeders as well, making sure they breed responsibly and that they are willing to help with the cat if you run into a problem. Many cateries (cat breeders) are mills, producing quantity over quality, and will not be concerned with any problems that may arise once the kitten leaves them and is in your home. And then there are fantastic cateries who strive to produce the healthiest and most well-tempered hybrids, and are willing to help any way they can if you run into an issue with the kitten you purchased from them.

Also consider nutrition. Some hybrids have a higher protein requirement, and may strongly require mental enrichment combined with their feedings. Knowing this before bringing the kitten home will only help you in your effort to be the best pet parent you can be.

Lastly, you may want to confirm that your veterinarian will treat the specific hybrid you are considering purchasing. Some veterinarians will not see Savannahs, for example, due to them being generally harder - and potentially riskier - to deal with than a normal cat.

Tune in next time when we dive into the world of hybrid dogs!


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